EU fisheries deal leaves member states scrambling for UK waters quotas

Andrew Bowie hits out at SNP for 'point scoring' over fisheries

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The Brussels bloc has agreed on new fisheries quotas for 2023, leaving Spain unhappy with sustainability rules for the Mediterranean and EU states scrambling to reach an agreement with non-members UK and Norway. The deal was reached after a two-day meeting between the EU-27 fisheries ministers, which began last Sunday and was marked by intense talks.

It was an “overall good” agreement for Spain, according to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, Luis Planas, who stressed Spain has obtained 9,953 tonnes of fishing quota for southern hake, double the amount obtained in 2022, the highest in the last eight years and the second best of the century. There are 1,200 fishing boats from Galicia, Asturias, Cantabria and the Basque Country involved in this fishery in the Cantabrian Sea.

With mackerel, the total allowable catch has increased by 20 percent to 29,439 tonnes, a species for which some 900 boats fish. Planas said on Radio Nacional de España it has been “a good agreement overall and very good in some very important fisheries for us”.

The mackerel quota has gone from the proposed 0 TAC to a figure of 3,271 tonnes of by-catch, 4 percent of the 70,000 tonnes for 2022, which, according to Planas, shows the stock is “in poor condition”.

“There is still work to be done, but the result is positive in the context,” he added.

For the second consecutive year, Spain voted against the Mediterranean agreement because it believes that “the method chosen by the Commission is not the best”.

The EU executive proposes a reduction, which means about 10 days’ less fishing. A plan for fisheries in the western Mediterranean was adopted in June 2019, introducing a trawler effort management scheme to reduce fishing effort by up to 40 percent over five years compared to the period 1 January 2015 to 31 December 2017.

With regard to pollock, sole and Norway lobster functional units, the minister pointed out Spain has also met its objectives by managing to maintain quotas compared to the reductions proposed by the Commission, of 11 percent in the case of sole, 10 percent for pollock and 36 percent for Norway lobster.

Another issue that Planas described as “complex”, due to the number of countries involved, is eel fishing, for which a six-month closure has been agreed, either continuously or in two consecutive three-month periods, as requested by Spain.

As for the negotiations with the United Kingdom, the agreement has not been finalised, although, with baby tuna, Spain has, for the first time, obtained licences to access British waters. Northern hake is also up, with a 5 percent increase in quota; monkfish in zone VII, up 11 percent, and megrim in zone VII is up 14 percent.

Meanwhile, a new trade deal on fisheries will be worth £128 million to Scotland next year, up from £97 million last year, ministers have said.

A trilateral agreement between the UK, Norway and the EU has concluded with increased quotas for most North Sea stocks.

Total allowable catches for cod are up 63 percent, with haddock up 30 percent and whiting up 30 percent.

Scientists at the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea had recommended increased catch sizes following recent action to improve stocks.

The Scottish Government’s Rural Affairs Secretary Mairi Gougeon welcomed the agreement.

She said: “It is good to see the action that has been taken to protect North Sea stocks in recent years paying off, leading the way to increased access for Scotland’s fishers.

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“These stocks are of key commercial importance to Scotland and the increase in cod is a result of Scottish fishers’ efforts on recovery.

“The success of those efforts is reflected in the latest scientific advice, which has permitted significantly greater catches than last year.

“That is good news for Scotland’s fishers, who will have access to considerably greater whitefish quotas this year, with a positive economic effect for our fishing communities.”

The UK Government’s fisheries minister Mark Spencer also welcomed the deal, saying: “I’m pleased we have reached agreements with the EU and Norway, and wider coastal states, to secure important fish stocks worth over £450 million for the UK fishing fleet in 2023.

“The deals will help support a sustainable, profitable fishing industry for years to come while continuing to protect our marine environment and vital fishing grounds.”

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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