European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Joe Borg, expressed satisfaction at the outcome of the meeting: "The agreement we have reached here today is indicative of what Europe can achieve when we cooperate together in good faith and work as a team – even on the most complex issues. I am confident that the strong spirit of cooperation we have built over the past years will continue as my successor takes up her duties next year. I wish all concerned the very best in their future endeavours to keep fisheries and maritime issues firmly on the path to a sustainable and profitable future."
Although many stocks remain badly overfished, Commissioner Borg was able to relay some positive scientific advice to Council – namely that a small but increasing number of stocks are now being fished at MSY (maximum sustainable yield) levels.
As in past years, in proposing changes in the TACs (total allowable catches) for the various stocks concerned the Commission drew on the same objective working method, based on scientific advice. It also consulted widely with Member States and the industry and did its utmost to lessen the short-term burden for the catching sectors.
As is naturally the case with broad negotiations of this nature, the Commission's initial proposal was modified to accommodate some concerns expressed by Member States. This year's proposal does not yet include final figures for meant it was not possible to finalise quotas for the important North Sea stocks of haddock, cod, mackerel and herring. managed jointly with Norway or the Faroe Islands, because the parties have not yet reached agreement thereon. The provisional figures, comprising 65 per cent of the 2009 quotas, proposed by the Commission for these stocks should allow for fishing activities to continue into January, thereby giving the Commission time to conclude negotiations with Norway and to have the final figures transposed speedily thereafter. The Commission is confident that negotiations can resume in early 2010 and reach a balanced agreement acceptable to the EU and Norway.
In line with the EU's recently adopted shark action plan, Council maintained a zero TAC for porbeagle and authorised a limited by-catch TAC for spurdog of 10 per cent to avoid discards, with a commitment to zero catches for 2011.
The promising signs from recent anchovy surveys enabled Council to allow for a fishery of 7 000 tonnes, starting from January 2010, on the understanding that this figure will change to reflect the outcome of scientific advice in the spring. This fishery will be closely monitored accordingly.
TACs have been reduced for many key species, which will present the industry with a number of challenges over the next 12 months, said the Scottish Fishermen's Federation. Although they believe the outcome could have been much worse, given the original proposals.
Agreement was reached for prawns (langoustine) with the current quota for the North Sea being rolled over into 2010, although the West coast will endure a 15 per cent reduction, while Ireland saw a nine per cent reduction.
West coast haddock has also been cut significantly, with a 25 per cent fall in the quota for 2010, again less than the original proposal of 54 per cent but with the prospect of another reduction again 2011 – depending on the stock science. West of Scotland cod had a small increase of six per cent.
However, the EC has agreed to consider a new set of West coast whitefish conservation measures as an alternative to the draconian set of regulations applied in January 2009, and which are currently being rolled over for the next 18 months. Ireland has been asked to take the lead in this initiative and the SFF will be taking urgent action at the turn of the year to help shape the new regime.
The decisions have been also met with satisfaction from Ireland. The Irish Minister for Agriculture said that without an EU/ Norway agreement there was a real danger that the Irish mackerel fleet would be severely limited in terms of the amount of the mackerel quota it would be permitted to fish.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) has welcomed the decision to allow North Sea governments to try a new system of catch quotas that will signifincantly reduce fish waste in the North Sea.
However, the Northern Irish Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development, Michelle Gildernew has expressed diappointment with the outcome. She believes there should have been no cut in the prawn quota and an increase in the TAC for the Irish Sea herring. She concluded saying: "I am committed to seeing the development of long-term fisheries management plans for Irish Sea prawns and for herring which we will develop in partnership with local marine stakeholders and the Commission. Those plans can build in the appropriate harvest levels that are best suited to the characteristics of Irish Sea stocks and will incorporate environmental objectives for these fisheries."