Council agreement on 2018 fishing quotas in the Atlantic and North Sea
On 13 December 2017 after all-night negotiations, the Council reached a political agreement on a regulation concerning the 2018 fishing opportunities for the main commercial fish stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea.
As a result of this Council decision, the number of fish stocks managed at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels will increase next year to 53, 9 more than in 2017. The agreement also foresees solutions for the critical state of eel and seabass stocks.
In view of the critical state of eel fisheries, it will be prohibited to fish for European eel of an overall length of 12 cm or more in Union waters of ICES areas, including the Baltic Sea, for a consecutive three-month period to be determined by each member state between 1 September 2018 and 31 January 2019. That is the time when eels are migrating and therefore are most vulnerable. Member states will have to communicate the chosen period to the Commission by 1 June 2018.
The decision is complemented by a joint declaration of the European Commission and member states aiming at further protecting the stock of European eel, for instance in inland waters, through a strengthening of eel management plans during all stages of the eel lifecycle.
Concerning sea bass the Council acknowledged the bad state of stocks in the Celtic Sea, Channel, Irish Sea and southern North Sea and their importance for many countries. It consequently decided to make additional efforts by only allowing limited fisheries with certain gears in those areas, while providing for a two months closure to protect spawning aggregations. Recreational fishing is further restricted, with only catch-and release fishing allowed during the entire year. A lower daily bag limit for recreational fisheries is also fixed in the Bay of Biscay.
The Council agreement largely confirmed the initial Commission proposal, which established fishing opportunities in the form of yearly total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas by fish stocks in the different fishing zones. TACs and quotas concern stocks that the EU manages either autonomously or jointly with third countries, for instance with Norway in the North Sea and the Skagerrak, and related to North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) Coastal State consultations, as well as stocks set through agreements reached in the framework of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs).
Based on the scientific advice provided by the International council for the exploration of the sea (ICES) and the Scientific, technical and economic committee for fisheries (STECF), the Commission had proposed for 2018 to increase or keep current catch limits for 53 stocks and to reduce it for 25 stocks. The Commission had also proposed a fishing ban for eels the Baltic, North Sea and Atlantic.
One of the main objectives of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is to ensure high long-term fishing yields (MSY) for all stocks by 2015 where possible, and at the latest by 2020. In December 2016, 44 stocks were fished at MSY levels.
Together with MSY, another important objective is to reduce unwanted catches and gradually introduce the landing obligation. As from 1 January 2019 all stocks under catch limits will be subject to the landing obligation.
The setting of TACs and quotas is an annual management exercise decided upon by the Council only in accordance with Article 43(3) of the TFEU. It takes place in parallel the adoption of fishing opportunities in the Black Sea, and is preceded by a similar TAC setting exercise on deep sea fish stocks in November (every second year), and on Baltic Sea stocks in October.
This item will be included, following finalisation by the legal/linguistic experts, in part "A" of the agenda for adoption by a forthcoming Council meeting.