Friday, 19 December 2014

EU Fishing Negotiations

As I write this article I am about to start day two of intense negotiations in Brussels over next year’s fishing quotas in my role as Fisheries Minister. There has been concern from Newlyn and other parts of the West Country fleet this year because some of the science on the state of certain fish stocks has been challenging and the European Commission’s original proposals contained some significant cuts. I have been working hard with my negotiating team to get the right outcome and by the time you read this, the final deal will have been done.

If we want a future for our fishing industry then we need to fish sustainably. If we hammer vulnerable stocks today then there will be no fish and no fishermen tomorrow. It is not always easy for people to think about the long term when they are considering fishing opportunities for next year but we must. Some have urged me to forget the scientific advice and just argue against all cuts in quota but I will not ditch the science.  

However, we must ensure we are using the most up to date scientific evidence and also take account of the realities of the marine environment to ensure we do not end up with unintended consequences. That is why I have brought new scientific evidence to the table which demonstrates cod stocks in around Cornwall have recovered since the last evidence was published. 

It is also why our scientists are carrying out what we term "mixed fishery analysis" to model the interactions between different fish species. There is no point having a dramatic cut in the quota for haddock if it is in a mixed fishery with cod and cannot be avoided. Otherwise all that happens is that perfectly good haddock ends up being discarded dead back into the sea because fishermen have no quota for them. That is an appalling waste.

Finally, I have been arguing we should make the most informed judgement we can even where there are gaps in the evidence. The two most important fish species landed in Newlyn are monkfish and megrim. Both are what are termed "data limited stocks" which means there are gaps in the scientific evidence. In the past the Commission has argued for a precautionary approach with automatic cuts to quotas. However, I think we should use the evidence we have of the improving trends in the health of some of these stocks and have been pressing the case for lower reductions than those proposed.

The marine environment is incredibly complex and no man made system to manage it will ever be perfect. From 2016 we will implement the new CFP with a discard ban and new flexibilities to make fisheries management more sensible. It won't be perfect but it does represent a major step forward.