Increased fish quotas and greater catching flexibility must be agreed when the EU fisheries council starts tomorrow, if next year’s discard ban has a hope of working, the industry and politicians have agreed.
Negotiations to finalise next year’s quotas that get underway in Brussels tomorrow have special significance for the Scottish industry because the phased introduction of the demersal Landing Obligation (discard ban) will deliver a major sea-change in the way fisheries are managed.
The discard ban, which already affects mackerel and herring fishing, will apply to some demersal species from 1st January and will be applied progressively until all quota species are covered by 1 January 2019.
For white fish vessels in the North Sea, the new regime will apply to haddock and plaice, whilst North Sea prawn boats will have to land all their prawns and sole. On the west coast, haddock and prawns will come under the umbrella of the scheme.
Many of next year’s quotas have already been decided at the recent negotiations between the EU and Norway for shared stocks, resulting in a 15 per cent increase for North Sea cod and 30 per cent for haddock, in line with the scientific advice. An additional catch uplift of 17.3 per cent was also agreed for haddock to enable the fleet to cope with the management of the discard ban. North Sea herring will increase by 16 per cent.
As well as rubber-stamping these agreements, the EU Fisheries Council will also set quotas for a range of other stocks not shared with external coastal states, including North Sea and West coast prawns, megrim, northern monkfish and West coast herring.
Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive Bertie Armstrong said: “The good news for our fleet is that many of our key stocks are in a healthy state, which will result in increased quotas for next year.
“But against this background comes the considerable uncertainty over the management arrangements for the phased introduction of the discard ban for demersal fishers. This management is especially complicated because of the mixed fishery environment our fleet operates in.
“There is, for example, the question of what happens if the quota for one species becomes exhausted, and which potentially causes a choke that will lead to the cessation of all fishing.
“It is, therefore, essential that the management measures finally agreed upon are flexible enough to enable the fleet to cope with such impacts of the discard ban.
Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead, who will be part of the UK team in Brussels, said the European Commission must deliver increased fish quotas and quota uplifts to help them implement the discard ban.
He highlighted the range of work the government has undertaken to help fishermen understand the ban, including holding information events, distributing guidance and fact-sheets, and working with industry to understand the challenges presented by the discard ban and identifying solutions.
Mr Lochhead will also be seeking immediate action and commitments from the Commission to begin the repeal of the flawed Cod Recovery Plan and all its “dysfunctional elements”, given the current positive health of the North Sea cod stock, which is now over three times the size it was in 2006 and this year received the highest advised catch tonnage in 15 years.
He said: “No-one, least of all our fishermen, want to see perfectly edible fish thrown back into the sea dead. The successful implementation of the discard ban can end this practice and it is crucial that the European Commission delivers the extra fish quotas and quota uplifts that our fishermen need.
“We’ve already seen positive signs with the agreed increases in quota for haddock and cod, in a package that will be worth around £15 million for Scottish fishermen, but we need that matched with increases in the total allowable catch and quota uplifts for the other species being negotiated in Brussels.
“The Scottish Government has been working hard with the industry to help them understand and prepare for the discard ban and I will be in Brussels to fight for the best possible deal for our fleet.
“The deeply flawed Cod Recovery Plan has been a millstone around our fishermen’s necks for far too long and their efforts which have borne fruit in the recovery of the North Sea Cod stock now need to be recognised. The cod stock is now over three times the size it was in 2006 and this year it is enjoying the highest advised catch tonnage in 15 years.
“Now is the time to demand that the Commission initiate immediate steps for the full repeal of the Cod Recovery Plan and all its dysfunctional elements.”