This was one of the key outcomes from the EC Fish Council that concluded in Brussels (17 December). With key fish stocks such as North Sea cod now increasing in size, Scots fishermen were pressing for a freeze in fishing effort, given that any further reduction in fishing days would have placed an unbearable economic burden on the fleet for absolutely no conservation gain.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said: “We are relieved that there will be no further cuts in fishing days as it would have brought real economic hardship to the fleet at a time when fish stocks are recovering. Freezing the effort at its current level was entirely the commonsense approach to take.”
Quota allocations for many fish stocks of crucial importance to the Scottish fleet were also decided at the Fish Council. There were increases for Northern hake and megrim, but reductions for West of Scotland haddock, and West of Scotland and North Sea monkfish, as well as North Sea and West coast prawns (Nephrops or langoustines). The quota for West of Scotland whiting remains unchanged.
Mr Armstrong said: “Many of the cuts tabled were larger than would normally be the case because of the EC’s move towards the principle of ‘Maximum Sustainable Yield’, and there is no doubt that the final reductions agreed today for some species will undoubtedly cause further difficulties for our fishing fleet. However, we do welcome the commitment given by the Commission to support pilot fishing trials in the lead-up to the forthcoming discards ban, which will enable the fleet to innovate and develop workable future fishery management plans.”
“Despite the background of recovering fish stocks, the coming year will see a number of significant challenges for the Scottish fleet, most notably in preparing for the impending introduction of this discards ban,” said Mr Armstrong.
Quotas for several other key stocks that are shared with Norway in the North Sea such as cod, haddock, whiting and mackerel – will not be decided upon until after the New Year due to the failure so far to reach agreement on North East Atlantic mackerel share allocations with Iceland and the Faroes. There were background discussions at the Fish Council on trying to progress a way to resolve the mackerel shares issue, although actual negotiations between the EU, Norway, Iceland and the Faroes will not commence again until after the New Year.