Select Committee on European Union Forty-Ninth Report

FISHERIES (15111/02; 15245/01; 14219/02)

Letter from Elliot Morley MP, Minister for Fisheries, Water and Nature Protection to the Chairman

  I am writing to inform you about four draft proposals on fisheries, which do not yet have scrutiny clearance but are likely to be adopted by the Council of Ministers in the next few days.

  The first is a short proposal for amendments to the Council Regulation 2555/2001 on TACs and quotas for certain fish stocks for 2002. This proposal was received here on 10 December as Council Document 15111/02 and the Explanatory Memorandum is attached. The proposed amendments flow from decisions reached (respectively in the International Baltic Sea Fishery Commission concerning the herring TAC in the Baltic Sea, by Greenland on the definitive TAC for capelin in the North Atlantic, under the EU-Faroes fisheries agreement on the balance of fishing opportunities and on various conservation requirements in the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission). The amendments are entirely unexceptionable from a UK point of view. The revised quotas, and other provisions the regulation would introduce, relate to fishing activities in what little remains of calendar year 2002. In the circumstances, I do not wish to obstruct the Presidency's efforts to get them adopted as soon as possible, and so I should like to make you aware that adoption is likely in the next few days.

  The second proposal is the proposal for a Council Regulation for measures for the recovery of cod and hake stocks (doc 15245/02). The state of play on this is that I submitted an EM on 28 February and on 11 July a supplementary EM with an RIA. Sub-Committee D cleared the EM on 24 July.

  I can now give you information about recent developments on this proposal.

  The Commission has very recently indicated that it intends to make a formal amendment to the proposal, which is still awaited. We understand that the amendment will respond to the latest views of the scientific body which advises the EU on fish stocks, that stocks, especially of cod, are in a more depleted state than hitherto believed, and that a moratorium should be introduced on fishing for cod in the North Sea, West of Scotland, and the Irish Sea, and fishing for species caught with cod should be substantially reduced.

  In the light of this advice the Commission intends to propose that its proposed limits on fishing effort (days at sea) should be tightened. It envisages that effort on cod, haddock and whiting should be reduced by 80 per cent, on flatfish by 40 per cent, on megrim, anglerfish and industrial species by 10 per cent and on nephrops by 5 per cent. Measures for northern hake would be somewhat relaxed in the light of latest scientific opinion.

  Vessels would be allocated to segments depending on their catch composition over the period 1999-2001. As originally proposed, the total available kilowatt days at sea for each segment of the fleet would be allocated among the relevant vessels as each Member State wished. The Commission has stated that in the absence of agreement by the Council on this approach the Commission would intend to use its powers to make emergency regulations to impose a moratorium on fishing on cod.

  The catching sector of the fishing industry have emphasised the highly damaging impact of 80 per cent cuts in effort on the white fish sector of the UK fleet, and on the on shore industries which depend on fishing. They reject the effort limitation approach.

  I have been closely consulting the industry on this proposal throughout the year and appreciate their alarm, especially at the latest Commission views. The Government fully accepts that a moratorium would greatly damage the white fish fleet, and that an 80 per cent cut would be little different in effect. I have made clear in the House that neither course is a realistic option. On the other hand we cannot ignore the very depleted state of the stocks. Without viable fish stocks the industry has no future.

  The issue will be considered at the Council next week. I hope that it will be possible to reach an agreement on a suitable way forward, which helps to ensure long term sustainable management of the stocks and defend the future of the industry. The Committee will appreciate that I wish to avoid the position that in the absence of a decision next week the Commission considers itself obliged to take emergency action by imposing a moratorium on fishing by our fleet. Clearly these are going to be difficult discussions and I may be asked to agree some sort of compromise.

  The third proposal is for the Council Regulation that will set Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for 2003. The Commission yesterday released details of the contents of this proposal on its website, so we are expecting to receive a depositable document very shortly and will produce an Explanatory Memorandum as soon as possible. However, the proposal is on the agenda for adoption at next week's Council. The negotiations about this will be unusually complex this year, because the Commission envisages very substantial cuts in allowable catches, to correspond with the reductions in effort which it envisages in relation to cod recovery (see above). I will clearly be looking for higher TACs on these key stocks than will be proposed by the Commission: the levels of TAC that might be achieved will depend to a high degree on the conclusions that can be reached on an alternative programme for cod recovery. In view of the practical reality that TACs and quotas need to be in place to provide the framework for managing fishing from 1 January 2003, it is clearly desirable that the content of this regulation should be agreed and adopted by the Council next week and I propose to support its adoption.

  The fourth proposal is for a council regulation fixing for the 2003 year the guide prices and Community producer prices for certain fishery products pursuant to Regulation (EC) no 104/2000. Explanatory Memorandum 14219/02 regarding this proposal was submitted to your Committee on 10 December (a signed version was faxed on 9 December), but you were unable to consider the EM in your sift on 10 December.

  Guide prices function chiefly as the base from which the Community withdrawal and reference prices are calculated. It is, therefore, important that an agreement is reached before the start of the fishing year on 1 January. The proposals meet the UK's objective on Guide Prices for the 2003 fishing year. It would be helpful if you could consider the EM in your next sift on 17 December so that we can lift our reserve and the proposal can be adopted as an "A" point at the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 20 December.

17 December 2002

Letter from the Chairman to Elliot Morley Esq MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

  Many thanks for your letter of 17 December about the fisheries proposals going forward for adoption at this week's Agriculture and Fisheries Council.

  Sub-Committee D considered the letter at its meeting on 18 December, and cleared the proposal for amending the current (2002) Regulation on TACs and quotas (doc 15111/02). Of the other proposals, the one dealing with cod and hake recovery (15245/01) had, as your letter noted, already been cleared. We were, however, grateful to have the account of recent developments. The proposal on guide prices etc (14219/02) was cleared in this week's sift.

  That leaves the proposals for the 2003 TACs and quotas Regulation. We appreciate that the Commission has had to contend with an exceptionally difficult situation this year, complicated by the continuing debate on its reform package of last May. At the best of times it is difficult for the scrutiny committees to make a meaningful input to the most important annual event in the EU fisheries calendar. But it is unusual, to say the least, to be told that the Council was likely to adopt major proposals which had not even been deposited with Parliament, let alone accompanied by the Government's usual detailed critique.

  In the circumstances, we have no choice but to note the position and to look forward to a full account after the event. As you know, Sub-Committee D has decided to follow up the oral evidence it took from you last July and to re-visit the issues covered by our January 2001 Report (Unsustainable Fishing). I gather that you will be giving further evidence to the Sub-Committee on 22 January, when you can expect to be asked to give a full account of what passed at the Council meeting.

  We are grateful to you for agreeing to do this, which will get the new inquiry off to a good start.

19 December 2002

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