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An estimated 33% of the European fishing fleet catches are fished in British waters. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists on Britain “maintaining control of these UK fishing waters” after it leaves the EU, he said in his first meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who took office in December. The two are discussing the negotiations after Brexit, on January 31, with Johnson wanting a trade deal with the EU completed by the end of 2020 without Britain aligning with EU rules. He said the UK wanted “a broad free-trade agreement covering goods and services and co-operation in other areas”. With regards to fishing rights the two sides have committed to negotiating a new framework in place by 1 July although EU spokespersons believe that talks will go deep into the year due to its complexities.
Ahead of the Council meeting on Fisheries taking place in mid-December, the Commission has adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities, the Total Allowable Catches (TACs), in 2020 for 72 stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea. Quotas for 32 stocks will increase or remain the same, while 40 stocks will have their quota reduced. The quotas are set for most commercial fish stocks at levels that maintain or restore them to health, while allowing the industry to take the highest amount of fish. The proposal follows advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Sustainable fishing has made substantial progress in the EU: in 2019, 59 stocks are being fished at Maximum Sustainable Yield levels, up from 53 in 2018 and compared to only 5 in 2009, meaning that the fishing pressure on the stocks is limited to a level that will allow a healthy future for the fish stocks' biomass, while taking into account socio-economic factors. As the size of some key fish stocks is increasing – for instance, haddock in the Celtic Sea and sole in the Bristol Channel – so has the European fishing sector’s profitability which will reach an estimated €1.3 billion in 2019.
Scientists and industry representatives from 16 countries gathered in Tromsø, Norway in the middle of June to launch a new EU-funded project, AquaVitae. The 36 project partners are from European countries as well as Brazil, South Africa, Namibia, and North America.
A new study claims that the EU will not reach its 2020 goal of sustainably caught fish, as EU ministers continue allowing catches higher than the recommended limits set by scientists. The New Economics Foundation (NEF), an NGO based in the UK, claims that the 2019 TACs for nearly half of EU commercial fish species were set higher than the scientific advice. They found that 55 TAC’s were set above recommended levels equating to approximately 312,000 tonnes in excess catch. The Northeast Atlantic TACs were on average set 16% above scientific advice, an increase of 9% from 2018. Early negotiations for the Baltic Sea and deep sea TACs are currently set higher than expert advice.
This year, 2019, marks the year that the landing obligation comes into full effect. This ends the four-year phasing-in period. All catches of regulated commercial species are required to be landed and counted against the quota throughout the EU. This aims to stop the unsustainable practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea. However, reports show that the majority of the fish thrown back does not survive. Scientists believe that this will encourage fisherman to adapt and invest in selective gears to reduce these unwanted landings and improve the sustainability of fish stocks, however, they warn that there could be initial hardship for the industry and that fisheries data maybe compromised as this obligation is very difficult to monitor. Few within the industry believe that fishing vessels will follow the obligation. Currently, fisheries ministers throughout the EU are working on trade quota deals to ease the pressure on the industry.
The Eurobarometer, a survey since 1973 of economic and social indicators, operated by the European Commission, has found, once again, that Europeans love fish. European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella reacted to the most recent report by highlighting the importance of ensuring the sustainability of European fisheries so that “…our citizens can enjoy these tasty products in the long term.” Considerable progress has been made in this regard over the last years, he said, adding that aquaculture too played an important role, “farmed fish from the EU is a sustainable source of protein and other nutrients. In a low-carbon society, its role will only increase.” Europeans spend twice as much, per person, on fish than do Americans because, according to the survey of people’s opinion, most (74% of survey respondents) find it healthy, and tasty. Europeans also prefer the local fishmonger, who sells local fish, rather than other retail channels, where the fish may be imported, and where the seller may not be as acquainted with seafood, how to treat it, recipes, and so on. Fishmongers also often offer a more varied assortment of seafood, which the survey respondents also valued. Trust was another issue, the respondents also indicated they felt greater confidence in their seafood purchases because of the strict EU rules on product quality, labelling, and other benefits.
European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and Mr Kim Young-Choon, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea have agreed to collaborate closely to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The new alliance, in line with the objectives of the EU’s Ocean Governance strategy will;
- exchange information about suspected IUU-activities
- enhance global traceability of fishery products threatened by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, through a risk-based, electronic catch documentation and certification system
- join forces in supporting developing states in the fight against IUU fishing and the promotion of sustainable fishing through education and training
- strengthen cooperation in international fora, including regional fisheries management organisations.
A new report from the European Commission provides the latest evidence that marine protected areas (MPAs) not only encourage rejuvenation of depleted fish stocks, they can encourage economic activity and new jobs as well. The report, "Economic Benefits of Marine Protected Areas and Spatial Protection Measures", examines ten case studies among the dozens of MPAs that have been created in EU waters. There are numerous examples of business activities in fishing, tourism, passenger shipping, and the blue economy itself, all spurred by, or even dependent upon, the existence of MPAs.
Direct benefits of MPAs on fishing activities include increased abundance of larger, healthier fish, which leads to higher prices. Greater stock abundance reduces fishing costs and improves efficiency. Fish from an MPA can often receive an eco-certification, also leading to higher prices.
Benefits to the tourism sector arise from increased numbers of visitors and their length of stay, as well as extension of the tourism season, all of which mean higher incomes to sectors providing goods and services to tourists. MPAs encourage recreational activities such as SCUBA diving and sport fishing, further adding to local financial benefits.
Fishermen in Northern Ireland (NI) are troubled by EU demands to allow EU vessels full access to UK fishing waters following Brexit. Harry Wick, CAO of the Northern Ireland Fish Producers Organisation, who represents 75% of the NI fishing fleet, told the News Letter that the UK has the best fisheries waters in the EU but won’t have control over them, despite Brexit. His comments were made after the 27 remaining EU leaders published a statement that vowed to protect their own interests, on issues from fishing to fair competition and the rights of citizens. Calling the current situation unfair, Mr Wick noted that French and Spanish fisherman today take 15% of prawns from the Irish Sea; the French catch 85% of cod from the English Channel while the UK gets only 11%; the UK holds 70% of the Irish sea territory but is only allowed 30% of cod from it; EU vessels catch six times as much fish in UK waters as UK vessels catch in EU waters; and that more than nine of ten commercial fishermen in the UK voted for Brexit. As a response, EU fishermen argue that they have fished the areas for centuries and that their industries are heavily dependent on catches in UK water. They also point out that much of the UK’s own produce is exported to the EU. The French want the status quo to remain despite Brexit, said Mr Wick, but after Brexit we would expect our fair share from UK waters.
New EU rules on how, where and when fish can be caught, were enacted by the European Parliament (EP). Key highlights are an EU-wide ban on the use of electric pulse fishing, simpler rules on fishing gear and minimum size of fish, more regional flexibility for fishermen, but also limits on catches of vulnerable stocks and juvenile fish. The new law, which updates and combines more than 30 regulations, also allows tailor-made measures that cater to the regional needs of each sea basin. During the vote on existing technical measures in fisheries, the EP adopted an amendment of importance to Croatian fisheries – the amendment to strike a Mediterranean Regulation provision which prevented the use of purse seines at depths less than 70% of their height, which did not suit Croatian fishermen and nearly stopped such fishing since Croatia’s accession to the EU in 2013. An amendment calling for a total ban on the use of electric current for fishing (e.g. to drive fish up out of the seabed and into the net) was passed by 402 votes to 232, with 40 abstentions. The EU rules, designed to progressively reduce juvenile catches, would prohibit some fishing gear and methods, impose general restrictions on the use of towed gear and static nets, restrict catches of marine mammals, seabirds and marine reptiles, include special provisions to protect sensitive habitats, and ban practices such as “high-grading” (discarding low-priced fish even though they should legally be landed) in order to reduce discarding.