By LOUISE THOMASON
FISHING quota negotiations continued this week at the Fisheries Council in Brussels with discussions between the EU and Norway over total allowable catch figures for shared stocks.
The outcome of the first round of talks has seen the agreement of a new Cod Recovery Plan, setting a new target for the amount of cod caught – a reduction of 25 per cent in the first year – and fishermen will now be looking for an increase in the amount allowed to be landed in an attempt to deal with unnecessary discards.
Importantly, control of how to reach that target has been devolved to member states. Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong welcomed the new proposals, stating that the work already done by Scottish fishermen this year will be important in helping them achieve their goals.
He said: “The target is very demanding, but we have the benefit of a year’s worth of experience in cod avoidance measures.
“We will now be working hard to achieve our new 25 per cent reduction target by further developing and refining the conservation measures that we have pioneered this year.”
The plan will be implemented in Scotland through the continuation of cod avoidance measures already being practised, such as net alterations to allow fish to escape and the Conservation Credits Scheme which introduced the real-time closure of fishing grounds. In return for complying with temporary ground closures, fishermen gain more days at sea.
The commission has recognised these efforts by making the Scottish example the framework of the new plan.
The second stage of the talks focuses on cod TACs, currently being discussed, with those in the industry looking for an increase of at least 25 per cent.
Speaking this week, Mr Armstrong said the TACs would have an important impact on the state of cod stocks.
“The TAC increase would be within the new cod recovery plan and commensurate with a reduction in cod mortality,” he said.
Mr Armstrong continued: “What we want to see is a TAC increase within the scientific possibility of anything from 25 per cent to 38 per cent.”
Orkney and Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael agreed. He raised the point at the annual fisheries debate at the House of Commons last Thursday.
He said: “The current management plan for North Sea cod suggests a 15 per cent increase in the total allowable catch. Compared with the position of a few years ago, that is a remarkable achievement, and we should not underestimate its significance. However, there is scope for the UK to press for more.
“The more cod TAC that we can get, the less of a problem there will be with discards.”
Mr Carmichael said: “Discarding is not a consequence of naked greed; fishermen do not go out and hoover up everything that they can lay their nets on. It is a consequence of the disparity between the quota level set and the fish to be found in the sea.
“At the heart of the problem is the fact that the science does not reflect what is in the water today; it might reflect what was there a couple of years ago, but life has moved on significantly.”
Mr Carmichael also called for more importance to be placed on the talks between the EU and Norway.
He said: “In my experience, the real decisions are made not at the December Fisheries Council but at the EU-Norway negotiations. I have never understood why we do not pay more political attention to those negotiations, because they seem to be the absolutely crucial ones, and the December Fisheries Council is simply left to carve up what is agreed.”
Finally, Mr Carmichael applauded the creative thinking being done in the industry and advocated maintaining aspects of the CFP which are to Scotland’s advantage, including a “special plea” for the Shetland Box rules.
The second stage of the talks is likely to continue into the weekend; however the latest news from Brussels is that before finalising TAC figures for shared stocks, including cod, Norway wants to see details of measures taken to reduce discards.
Shetland Fishermen’s Association chairman Leslie Tait is in Brussels all week representing the SFA.
In further discussions on the cod quota, at a debate on Fisheries in the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday, Shetland MSP Tavish Scott pressed Fisheries minister Richard Lochhead not to sacrifice fishing effort in an attempt to win increased cod quota at the December EU Fisheries Council.