Mixed reaction to EU fishing quotas

The 2011 fishing rights deal hammered out this week by European fisheries ministers is garnering mixed reaction from conservation groups, fishermen and politicians.

This year’s barter for fishing rights in the Atlantic and the North Sea pitted conservation efforts against politics, with a final result that “moves us closer to our goal of sustainable fishing by 2015,” said European Union Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki.

Each year, the European Council meets to decide on the total allowable catches in the Atlantic, the North Sea and international waters. The allocation to each member states is fixed in the quotas. With sustainability overarching all quota talks for the European Commission, Damanaki is making it clear that science must underpin any fisheries management decisions.

“Taking science as our starting point is the only possible approach,” she warned at a recent meeting in Brussels.

The talks had delivered “positives for Scotland in some areas and disappointments in others,” said Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead soon after the meeting.

Scotland achieved a “substantial increase” in the megrim quota, up 10 percent for the west coast and 5 percent in the North Sea, while an expected 15 percent cut in the west coast monkfish quota was reduced only 2 percent.

Lochhead claimed Scotland had clearly indicated to the commission that “we are pushing for significant change in fisheries management.”

But for Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson, the talks ended “once again with a predictable body blow to Scotland’s fishing sector.” He railed against the 25 percent cut in west coast haddock and the 15 percent cut in west coast prawns, which he said would “seriously impact the future viability of the Scottish whitefish fleet.”

Cod was also a hot topic at this week’s meeting. Damanaki had proposed a 50 percent cut in cod quotas in zones to the west of Scotland, in the Irish Sea and in the straits between Sweden and Denmark. Fisheries ministers finally agreed to reduce the overall cod quota from 40,219 metric tons in 2010 to 32,912 metric tons next year, an 18 percent cut.

In the North Sea off Scotland and England, the cod quota was cut 20 percent to 22,279 metric tons, and the biggest reduction came in Kattegat waters between Denmark, Sweden and Norway — a 50 percent cut to 190 metric tons in 2011.

Uta Bellion of the conservation group Ocean 2012 claimed the council had moved in the right direction, but she warned that “bargaining with our oceans” had to cease. The group called on member states to set long-term abundance targets for stocks that go beyond maximum sustainable yield, underlining that EU fisheries should move in pace with the precautionary approach inked by the UN’s 1995 fish stocks agreement.

A swathe of stakeholders reiterated calls for the overhaul of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon deemed “broken and [in need of] radical reform.” The CFP is slated for reform by 2012.

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