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Brussels, 15 September 2006

Questions and answers on fishing opportunities for 2007 – policy statement

Why is the Commission issuing this policy statement now?

Until now, annual fishing possibilities have been laid down in a regulation proposed by the Commission in late November – after receiving scientific advice in mid-October - and voted on in the December Council of Fisheries Ministers. The result was a process which left little time for consultation with stakeholders, or for in-depth debate on underlying principles guiding the way the proposed fishing possibilities were arrived at.

In its Communication on improving consultation on EU fisheries management adopted on 24 May 2006, the Commission undertook to make a number of significant changes to this process, so as to relieve the pressure on end-of-year discussions and involve stakeholders more closely in the development of policy, in particular at the level of long-term strategy. The main proposal is to move to a long-term management perspective based on multi-annual plans. At the same time, it was also decided to issue an annual policy statement, well in advance of the TACs and quota proposal, as a basis for discussion and consultation. Since such a statement would not depend on the most recent possible scientific data and forecasts, it could be issued quite early in the year. The Commission plans in future to adopt its annual policy statement in April. However, rather than wait till next year to inaugurate the new timetable, it seemed useful to adopt the first such statement already this year in September.

Who will be consulted?

The broad lines of the ideas contained in the Communication published today have already been discussed informally with stakeholders and with the Member States. The Commission now looks forward to receiving the written opinions of the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) and of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA). The Commission will also be consulting with the Member States, with the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF), and with the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES).

What are the benefits of this new approach?

By issuing this policy statement in advance of receiving the scientific advice on which decisions for the coming year will be based, the Commission hopes to refocus attention away from arguments over every single stock, towards the central issue of how European fisheries should be managed in the long-term to ensure environmental, economic and social sustainability.

By categorising fish stocks into a small number of groups, and proposing a coherent approach to establishing fishing opportunities for all the stocks within each group, the Commission is also establishing a new guiding principle which should ensure greater fairness and transparency, as well as decisions which make consistent biological sense.

How will the Commission deal with each of these categories?

  • Stocks exploited consistently with maximum sustainable yield: the Commission will propose TACs which will keep fishing mortality close to current levels.
  • Stocks overexploited with respect to maximum sustainable yield but inside safe biological limits: the Commission will propose TACs which ensure that fishing mortality does not increase from their current levels.
  • Stocks outside safe biological limits: the Commission will set TACs according to a rule based on the advice received from STECF on safe biological limits. While trying to keep changes in TAC within the 15% limit, the Commission will not do anything which would worsen the state of the stock in question. Three sub-categories are treated separately: short-lived species, which may require in-year adaptation of fishing possibilities; those whose life cycle is so long that they are highly vulnerable to exploitation and require special measures, such as deep-sea species; and stocks so far outside safe biological limits as to require recovery measures.
  • Stocks subject to long-term plans, including recovery plans: the Commission will propose TACs in accordance with the plans in force. For those for which long-terms plans have been proposed but not yet adopted by Council, the proposed TACs will be consistent with the proposals concerned.
  • Short-lived species: in-year reviews will be proposed for sandeel in the North Sea, anchovy in the Bay of Biscay, and sprat in the North Sea. Norway pout is more dependent on autumn data, but an in-year review may also be included in the proposal.
  • Stocks whose status is unknown but which are not at high biological risk: the Commission will apply the precautionary approach, and propose TACs which prevent the expansion of fisheries in situations of high uncertainty.

The Communication also identifies a number of special cases, including cod stocks in the Baltic Sea and those covered by the recovery plans, deep-sea species, mixed fisheries, nephrops stocks, blue whiting, and species not previously covered by TACs. Baltic cod stocks are covered by the proposal for Baltic TACs tabled on 5 September, where fishing possibilities are set in line with the multi-annual plan tabled last July, and a separate proposal covering deep sea species will be tabled later this month.

In the case of those cod stocks falling under the recovery plan, there had been no detectable recovery as of December 2005. For 2007, the Commission will propose TACs in line with the provisions of the plan if STECF is able to provide the quantitative estimates of stock size and fishing mortality required to apply the plan. If no such estimates can be supplied, the Commission will propose a reduction of 25% in TAC levels for cod, and a reduction of 25% in fishing effort in mixed fisheries which catch cod.

Do the references to Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) mean the Commission is already seeking to manage EU fish stocks for MSY?

The Member States committed themselves to maintaining or restoring fish stocks to levels that can produce at MSY no later than 2015 at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in Johannesburg in 2002. In July this year the Commission published a Communication intended to launch a debate with stakeholders and with the Member States on how this commitment might be implemented in Community fisheries policy. Until this debate has been concluded, and a final decision adopted by the Member States, the Commission will seek not to propose TACs or other management measures which would contradict the commitment made by the Member States, i.e. it will not set fishing possibilities which would lead to an increase in fishing mortality levels where these are already above MSY.

SEE IP/06/1198

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