The following commentary by Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, was published in the Press & Journal on 12 December 2017
The annual EU quota negotiations are always a rather fraught affair and an abject reminder of the glaring deficiencies of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Fishermen’s livelihoods depend on the outcomes of these talks to decide upon the catching opportunity for the following year. Over the course of two or three days there are frenetic talks among the ministers of all 28 EU states, with compromises tabled when agreement can’t be reached, followed by more convoluted negotiations.
Alliances are formed by groups of countries to press their cases – sometimes to our advantage but other times not, and so the talking goes on. EU ministers and civil servants eventually fumble their way towards a final compromise and usually in the early hours of the morning a deal is reached. In short, fishermen’s futures are decided in a high pressure environment. It’s not very edifying and a perfect example of how not to manage our fisheries.
Of course, many of the quotas will have already been decided by the time we reach this stage in the process, especially those for shared stocks between EU and Norway, which cover such key species as North Sea haddock and cod. These are decided in November over two sets of week-long talks, where Norway as an independent coastal state negotiates directly with the EU to agree upon final share allocations. It puts Norway in a powerful position, negotiating directly with the EU, and ensuring its twin objectives of sustainable fishing and a good deal for its fishermen are reached.
So, by the end of November, Norwegian fishermen already know their catching opportunity for 2017 safe in the knowledge that they have achieved the best possible agreement. Once the UK leaves the EU in a couple of years’ time, we too will be in exactly the same position as a fully-fledged coastal state.
With full control of our 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone, it will provide the twin advantages of fairer shares of catching opportunity for our fishermen, as well as better overall management. It means Scotland and the UK can at long last implement fit-for-purpose fisheries management plans that are good for fishing communities and good for the environment.
But what about the talks starting today? Well, as ever, some quotas will rise and others will fall in line with scientific advice. North Sea cod looks set for a small increase and the saithe quota will also rise. Haddock is in line for a significant decrease, although this is not a reflection of any notable decline in the stock, but is rather a readjustment made to accommodate a previous error in the scientific assessment.
A particular challenge for 2017 is that more species will come under the umbrella of the discard ban. Whilst no-one hates discarding fish more than our fishermen, this has the potential to cause real operational problems because of so-called ‘choke species’, where a mixed fishery has to close down in its entirety because the allocation of one species has been fully taken.
And here-in lies another sea of opportunity in Brexit, for it will give the opportunity to develop a discards policy that works in practice and ensures sustainable fishing.