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Fishing Opportunities: The Ins And Outs


EU - This advice sheet from the European Commission explains total allowable catches (TACS) and quotas, what they are and how they are determined.

What are TACs and quotas?

A TAC – which stands for total allowable catch – is a legal limit on the overall amount of fish of a particular species that can be taken from the sea in a given area and brought ashore over a specified period (usually one year). A quota is a share of the TAC that can be fished by one Member State.

The Commission proposes regulations with TAC levels covering all fish stocks managed under the Common Fisheries Policy, but final power of decision rests with the Council of fisheries ministers.

TACs are needed to limit fishing so that the amount of fish caught and landed does not inhibit the stock's capacity to spawn and to bring young fish into the stock. A longer-term objective is to bring fishing to those levels of intensity that will produce the highest yields.

Conservation lies at the core of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP); some of the CFP's main measures are aimed at calculating and enforcing safe levels of capture.

The regulations adopted by the Council also contain an allocation key for sharing out the TACs in the form of quotas among Member States. When the CFP was established, a formula was devised to divide TACs up according to a number of factors, including countries' past catch record. This formula is still used today, on the basis of what is known as the principle of 'relative stability', which guarantees Member States a fixed percentage share of fishing opportunities for commercial species (species targeted by fishermen).

What is the relevance of the World Summit on Sustainable Development to TACs?

In 1992 at Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development reached a wide range of decisions concerning many environmental and development issues. One decision affecting fisheries was that fish stocks should be exploited so that stocks can produce the highest possible long-term yields, known as maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Clearly if too many fish are taken in the short term, stocks become depleted and catches will fall. If stocks were underfished, the sea would be populated by overabundant and ageing fish that would grow slowly and yield little. Fishing at MSY is about striking the right balance for the long term.

At the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, States decided that a deadline should be fixed for MSY for fish stocks, which should where possible be reached by 2015.

As all Member States of the EU are signatories to this implementation plan, ICES has provided advice on moving towards MSY fishing and the Commission has adapted its working method to the same purpose.

How are TACs and quotas decided?

Each year TACs for the following year are decided by the Council of fisheries ministers. Fishing opportunities for the Baltic Sea are decided in October, for the Black Sea in November or December, and for the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea in December. The TACs for deep-sea species are set every second year – with a proposal under discussion in 2010.

The Council's decision is the last stage in a long process involving scientists and stakeholders through the Regional Advisory Committees (RACs). Every spring the Commission publishes a consultation document outlining the principles it will use to interpret scientific advice when proposing fishing opportunities for the following year (see IP/10/574).

Scientific advice is provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which uses biological data collected by national research institutes from research campaigns and landing records from commercial fishing activities to assess the state of the main commercial stocks. The stock assessments for the north-east Atlantic are then examined by the group of national experts who sit on the ICES Advisory Committee on Fishery Management (ACFM), which then delivers a report containing its analysis and recommendations for TACs to the European Commission.

The European Commission subsequently consults its own group of independent experts who together make up the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF). Negotiations are also held with non-EU countries and regional fisheries organisations with an interest in or responsibility over the same fishing grounds or stocks. In the case of joint stocks, such as cod in the North Sea, the Commission negotiates bilaterally with Norway.

The Commission then analyses the various options and sets out proposals for the following year's total allowable catches and the conditions under which they may be caught. These proposals are discussed informally with stakeholders and with the Member States, before being submitted to the Council of Ministers for a final decision.

This annual mechanism has often resulted in fluctuations which have not only prevented fishermen from planning ahead, but have also failed to conserve fish stocks. Since the CFP reform in 2002, the EU has moved to setting long-term quantifiable objectives for attaining and then maintaining safe levels of fish stocks in European waters, together with the measures needed to reach these levels, so that annual TACs are not isolated annual decisions, but part of a multi-annual management approach.

Multi-annual plans are now being put in place for all major commercial stocks. This change of approach means that for these stocks, major decisions on admissible catch levels are no longer being taken in quite the same way, under very tight deadlines at the end of each year. Instead, each plan sets the rules that determine the level of annual TACs and quotas on the basis of the scientific advice received. The Commission is thus able to consult extensively in advance with all the parties concerned on the objectives to be achieved under each plan and how to achieve them. All plans are based on a precautionary approach to fisheries management, which seeks to ensure that fisheries are sustainable and to minimise their impact on the marine environment.

How do multi-annual plans prevent the TACs and quotas from fluctuating as they did before?

Multi-annual management starts by setting clear objectives, then relies on a plan to meet those objectives over the long term. If reductions in fishing opportunities are needed to bring the stock up to its maximum yield, the plan allows for the resultant measures to be spread over a number of years, thereby moving the management of the resources in the right direction. In this way, fishing opportunities become more stable and more predictable. The industry is better able to plan ahead and operate more efficiently. At the same time, the risk of the stock falling outside safe biological levels is reduced.

What long-term plans are already in place? What further plans have either been proposed or will be proposed soon?

Since 2003 the Council has established long-term plans for cod in the North Sea, Kattegat, Skagerrak, eastern Channel, west of Scotland, the Celtic Sea and Irish Sea (a new version of which came into effect in 2009); for northern hake stocks; and for southern hake and Norway lobster off the Iberian Peninsula.

In addition, multi-annual plans are in place for the stock of sole in the Bay of Biscay, sole in the Western channel, sole and plaice in the North Sea, Baltic Sea cod and West of Scotland herring.

The Commission has, moreover, drawn up proposals for long-term plans for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay and for the western stock of Atlantic horse mackerel.

Further details on long-term plans can be found at:

Who are the scientists who provide the Commission with advice? What is ICES?

The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) is an international organisation which coordinates and promotes marine research in the North Atlantic, including adjacent seas such as the Baltic Sea and North Sea. It currently has 19 members, which are all states bordering the North Atlantic, and draws on contributions from more than 1600 marine scientists. The 20 member countries of ICES are: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

ICES is the leading independent authority for advice on the marine ecosystem to governments and international regulatory bodies that manage the North Atlantic Ocean and adjacent seas. Scientists working through ICES gather information about the marine ecosystem. As well as working to fill gaps in existing knowledge, they also develop this information to give unbiased, non-political advice on ecosystem and fisheries management. More information can be found at the ICES website:

The ICES Advisory Committee (ACOM) is responsible for providing, on ICES' behalf, scientific information and advice on living resources and their harvesting, including wider ecological considerations. In formulating its advice on the management of around 135 stocks of fish and shellfish, the ACOM uses information prepared by numerous ICES stock assessment working groups.

And what is the STECF?

The implementation of the CFP requires the assistance of highly qualified scientific personnel, particularly in the fields of marine biology, marine ecology, fisheries science, fishing gear technology and fisheries economics. For that purpose the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) was established by Commission Decision 93/619/EC and renewed in 2005 by Commission Decision 2005/629/EC.

The members of the STECF are appointed by the Commission from among independent and highly qualified scientists on the basis of their expertise, and consistent with a geographical distribution that reflects the diversity of scientific issues and approaches within the Commission. The term of office of a Committee member is three years and is renewable.

The Committee may form internal working groups, whose meetings can also be attended by invited experts. The Joint Research Centre provides the secretariat of both the Committee and the working groups, and the Commission establishes the terms of reference.

The STECF may be consulted at regular intervals by the Commission on matters pertaining to the conservation and management of living aquatic resources, including biological, economic, environmental, social and technical considerations.

The Committee produces an annual report on the situation as regards fisheries resources and on developments in fishing activities. It also reports on the economic implications of the fishery resources situation.