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Brussels, 12 June 2007

Commission welcomes Council decisions strengthening shift to long-term fisheries management

The Commission welcomes the political agreement reached in Council on two important fisheries proposals. Ministers resolved outstanding differences on the multi-annual plan for Baltic Cod, thus avoiding the automatic quota cuts laid down by Council last December if the plan were not set up by 30 June 2007. They also agreed on a mechanism for redistributing non-utilised fishing opportunities paid for in advance by the EU under the Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) with Greenland, so as to ensure that the best possible value for money is obtained. This follows on the adoption yesterday of a range of significant measures, including multi-annual recovery plans for eel and bluefin tuna, and a multi-annual plan for flatfish in the North Sea (see IP/07/788).

Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Joe Borg commented, "The adoption by Council of four long-term plans are a welcome sign that the EU has begun to apply the maximum sustainable yield approach, as agreed in Johannesburg in 2002. To be truly effective however, this progress will have to be reflected in the setting of TACs and quotas and the accompanying measures, at the end of the year."

Council reached political agreement on a multi–annual plan for the cod stocks in the Baltic Sea, as first proposed by the Commission on 24 July 2006. The aim of the plan is to gradually but surely reduce fishing mortality on the two Baltic cod stocks (East and West) to levels advised by scientists so as to provide stable fishing possibilities and high yields in the long term. This will be achieved through a combination of stepwise reductions in fishing mortality and a progressive effort limitation scheme. Control and enforcement provisions will also be considerably strengthened.

The agreement provides greater flexibility for small-scale vessels between 8 and 12 meters. It will now be possible for such vessels to transfer a limited number of fishing days from the rest of the year for use during the summer closed period. Vessels may transfer up to 5 fishing days for each month of the closed period – that is, up to 5 days in the Western Baltic where there is a one-month summer ban, and up to 10 days in the Eastern Baltic, where the summer ban lasts two months. At least two of the days transferred must be used consecutively.

The Gulf of Riga has been excluded from the plan, on the grounds that the salinity of the water is too low for cod to thrive there. However, this exclusion is conditional on verification that cod catches in the Gulf do not exceed 1.5% of total cod catches in Areas 25-28. Should data and scientific advice show that this limit is exceeded, then the plan will apply to the Gulf of Riga too. The plan also now provides that subdivisions 27 and 28.2 may be excluded in future should the cod catch there fall below 3% of the total for Areas 25-28.

The plan contains a provision that vessels passing between the Eastern and the Western Baltic must first land any cod they have on board before going on to fish in the area they are moving into. This rule will now come into force on 1 January 2009. During 2008, vessels are not required to land their catch as long as when they commence fishing in the new area they have less than 150kg of cod on board. This derogation is for one year only, and is to allow the Member States time to put in place the control mechanisms which will be necessary to monitor and enforce the provision.

The original Commission proposal included a provision (Article 9) on the recovery of fishing days for Member States whose fleets were permanently reduced in relevant capacity. In the final text of the Regulation, this article has been removed. Instead, the Commission has made a declaration stating its intention to recognise such permanent reduction in capacity through a one-off proposal of up to four additional days absent from port in 2008. This proposal will be made in the autumn as part of the Commission's proposal for Baltic fishing opportunities for 2008. The Commission also made a declaration proposing incentives for equipping vessels with Electronic Reporting Systems and satellite-based Vessel Monitoring Systems.

Council also reached agreement on a new Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA) between the European Community and Greenland. The FPA will run for a period of six years from 1 January 2007, and has already provisionally entered into force. The annual EU financial contribution, in return for fishing opportunities on a number of species, will be € 15,847,244, of which 25% is earmarked for support to the Greenlandic fisheries policy. In addition to the EU financial contribution, a payment of € 2,000,000 is expected from ship owners in the form of licence fees. Council was able to agree on the one outstanding issue, namely, a mechanism that will allow the Commission to redistribute fishing oppportunities from one Member State to another in case not all the fishing opportunities paid for in advance are taken up. This transfer will take place after a specific date for each stock which is late enough in the season to respect the Member States' prerogative to manage and transfer their own quotas, yet early enough for the quota transferred to still be of use to those who receive it.

This system honours the Commission's commitment to the European Parliament and to Council itself to ensure the best possible value for money for EU money in the context of the FPAs, without in anyway affecting the principle of relative stability. Quota transfers under the mechanism are provisional measures valid only for the year concerned, and will not constitute a precedent for any future allocation of fishing possibilities. The use of Greenland quotas for transfers with third countries remains unchanged. Given the need for consistency in external fisheries agreements, the Council has invited the Commission to table a proposal in 2007-2008 containing a mechanism for the reallocation of unused fishing opportunities which will be applied to all the FPAs.

Council also adopted conclusions supporting the Commission's communication on a policy to reduce unwanted by-catches and eliminate discards in European fisheries. The Council will return to debate this issue in more detail later in the year.

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