Council meeting may be turning-point - or milestone
With TACs for most stocks under management in EU waters – and some of the most threatened stocks – up for a vote, the Council meeting on December 13-14, may be a decisive moment in a tug-of-war over sustainable fisheries between Commissioner Maria Damanaki and some dominant fishing powers that has slowly been building up this autumn.
The second day, Tuesday 14 December, is set aside for fisheries, while agriculture issues are scheduled to be discussed on the first day.
When the Commission presented its proposal on the 2011 TACs (Total Allowable Catches) in the Atlantic, the North Sea, and international waters, it noted that for some 72 percent of assessed stocks, overfishing is so serious that, to put it simply, more fish would be caught if there was less fishing, and only some 40 percent of assessed stocks are known to be fished sustainably.
The Commission specified that it was “very concerned” about the conservation of cod, with stocks in the Kattegat, the Irish Sea and the west of Scotland “showing no signs of recovery”. For those fisheries, the Commission proposes 50 percent TAC reductions and calls for member states to collaborate in an “in-depth review” of why measures set out in the long-term management plan have not delivered the expected results.
The Commission also expressed grave concerns for the state of the North Sea cod, which is managed jointly by the EU and Norway.
All in all, the Commission proposed quota increases for six stocks, quota decreases for 64 stocks and an unchanged quota for 23 stocks. The changes would amount to a reduction in quotas of 89,400 tonnes, or an overall 10 percent.
In their usual joint letter to the Fisheries ministers prior to the meeting, FISH and the Seas At Risk organisation stated their general support of the proposal, “which overall is ambitious and would take the EU some steps on the way to more sustainable fisheries and attainment of international targets”.
The FISH/SAR letter urged the ministers to base their decisions on the following general principles:
•that catch limits are in line with scientific advice;
•that the agreed fishing limits enable the EU to fulfil international binding targets;
•that existing long-term recovery/management plans are followed, when evaluated to be consistent with the precautionary approach.
The letter added that, to protect cod in some waters, added measures to reduce discards were needed, such as mandatory use of the best available selective gears and closure of mixed fisheries as soon as one of the quotas is emptied.
Stressing that ”we cannot negotiate with nature”, when she presented the extensive TAC proposal, Commissioner Maria Damanaki will now face strong opposition in the Council from dominating fishing nations lead by France, Spain and Italy in a power-struggle that has been brewing this autumn.
At the December meeting, the opposition will be joined by Great Britain, whose government has been under strong pressure from sector interests in Scotland who claim that the proposed decreases in TACs for cod would be a “devastating blow for an industry already struggling for survival”.
Damanaki, along with environmentalists, has been consistently advocating strict adherence to scientific advice in setting up TACs and management rules, while her opponents have brought up socioeconomic factors, and, in some cases, questioned scientific advice as such.
In the Council, Damanaki has found some support from Sweden, the Netherlands and, occasionally, Germany and the UK.
The most recent face-off between the opposing parties came when the October Council was to formally approve a mandate for the Commission to speak and sign for the EU at the annual ICCAT meeting in November to set quotas for the threatened Atlantic bluefin tuna fisheries.
Snubbed by the Council, Damanaki was sent back to later present a formal proposal that would be dealt with in Council sub-assemblies.
After the Commission had been rejected from the meeting of COREPER – an assembly of the member states’ EU ambassadors – an unprecedented incident, the Commission had to give in to a forced compromise that outraged environmentalists described as “pitiful”.