The European Commission has published its annual consultation paper in preparation for setting next year's fish quota later in the year. The Commission now asks for the views of Member States, the fishing industry and non-governmental organisations in regional Advisory Councils, as well as interested citizens and organisations via an online public consultation. The Commission will use the input when making its proposals for the 2016 fishing opportunities during the autumn.
What are fishing opportunities? How are they set?
The Commission makes the annual proposal for the so-called Total Allowable Catches (TAC) for most commercial stocks in the European seas outside the Mediterranean Sea. The proposed amounts are based on biological advice from an independent scientific body. The Council of Ministers (fisheries Ministers from Member States) and the Commission then decide later in the year on these TAC. Once established they are divided among Member States according to pre-agreed shares, called quotas. Member States manage the national quotas and share them out among the fishing industry, as a right to fish and land a certain amount of fish within the calendar year. For some fisheries there are also limits on the numbers of days vessels can spend fishing.
Where does the scientific advice come from?
Fishermen provide data on their catches and fishing activity, which are used by experts in Member States who then assess the state of the stocks. They also use samples of fish from commercial landings and from discards, and use research vessels to sample the amounts of fish in the sea at different places and different times of year. They determine how the state of health of the stock and then work out how much can be fished sustainably in the following year, often with the help of models. This work is done under the coordination of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) who provides the Commission with the independent and validated advice. In some cases other advisory bodies, such as the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), are consulted.
What is the basis for the fishing opportunities?
The new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) fixes the objective of reaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY) between 2015 and 2020 at the latest. MSY relates to the delivery of the highest long-term catches. At the same time it ensures the sustainable conservation of the stock and allows for maximization of fish supply and revenues from fishing. The TACs are set with a view to ensuring MSY.
Since 2015 a landing obligation is being introduced gradually, thereby prohibiting the throwing back of fish to the sea once it has been caught. By 2019, all European fisheries will be covered by this landing obligation. In 2016, demersal fisheries (catching for instance hake, cod, haddock, sole) will make a start with the landing obligation in the Atlantic waters and the North Sea. This change has implications for the levels of relevant TACs, which can be adjusted according to biological advice.
Regionalised management under the new CFP is also progressing further. While TACs are set by the Council of Ministers, for the management of the landing obligation Member States are preparing the implementation regionally (with discard plans). These regional initiatives will further expand when multiannual plans have been adopted. Rather than detailed decisions being taken in Brussels, Member States acting together will decide on these.
Is the policy working?
Yes. In the Northeast Atlantic area (including the North Sea and the Baltic Sea) a widespread move towards sustainability is visible. While most stocks were overfished in the early 2000s, nowadays more than half of the (MSY assessed) stocks are managed sustainably, and this includes many of the largest and commercially most valuable stocks. This is real and important progress towards achieving the objective of the CFP.
In the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea most of the stocks are still overfished. While Member States have put in place management plans for their fisheries on a local or regional basis, they have not yet shown tangible results. With an improving knowledge base and increasing biological advice for these areas, the challenges for the fisheries in these sea basins are also becoming more obvious.
For further information
The Communication can be read at: http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/cfp/fishing_rules/tacs/index_en.htm