The latest council meeting took place in Brussels on 25 and 26 February 2013, under the presidency of Mr Simon Coveney, Irish Minister of Agriculture, Food and the Marine.
The Council discussed the main Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the Common Fisheries Policy, proposed by the Commission in July 2011, as part of the package of proposals for a new, reformed fisheries policy for the EU.
Ministers reached a general approach on the remaining parts of the Regulation, after the partial approach they agreed in June 2012 under Danish Presidency. More specifically, EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki stated that the Council focused on the environmental obligations of Member States and on the ban of discards that are foreseen in the Regulation.
At the start of the meeting, Ms Damanaki said: "I understand the concerns of Ministers and the Presidency, about the timeline: we need to be realistic and I am here to hear your proposals. I just want to remind that 2020 is the deadline: that is the limit we all agreed upon."
The outcome of the meeting saw that all species will be covered by the discard ban. A discarding ban of pelagic stocks will come into force from January 2014, and then stocks in the Baltic Sea in 2015. In 2016, the discard ban will apply to the main demersal stocks in the North Sea and the North and South Westernand. Finally the discard ban will apply to fisheries in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and all other Union waters on 1 January 2017.
Commenting on the plan, Minister Coveney said: “I have been a strong advocate for the elimination of the wasteful practice of discards over many years, to my mind today’s decision by the Council of Ministers is a historic milestone in European Fisheries Policy.”
Speaking from Brussels, Richard Benyon, Minister for Natural Environment and Fisheries, said: “This is a historic moment in reforming the broken Common Fisheries Policy. The scandal of discards has gone on for too long and I’m delighted that the UK has taken such a central role in securing this agreement.
“I am disappointed that some of the measures required to put this ban into place are no longer as ambitious as I had hoped but it’s a price I am willing to accept if it means we can get the other details right.
Scotland’s Fisheries Minister Richard Lochhead also said: “No longer will European fishermen be dumping millions of tonnes of fish overboard which is a waste of a valuable food resource to the detriment of our stocks and the industry.
“It has been a long hard road to achieve agreement towards a package that represents the regional difference across European fleets. And the negotiation was dominated by attempts of some nations to exempt certain stocks by adding in specific loopholes.
The decision to take a progressive ban on discards was also welcomed by the the fishing industry. Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen's Federation said: “Ministers seem to have taken care to agree upon a practical plan that would work for the fishing industry and we are pleased that a more realistic timescale for the implementation of a discards plan was agreed.
“We also welcome the provision for a degree of flexibility in the plan so as to take into account any practical difficulties in implementing the scheme. It was also embedded into the agreement that a ban on discards will mean that fishermen can land more fish.
The final package will now need to be agreed with the EU Parliament.