Let me start by thanking the Estonian Presidency, the Council Secretariat and the Member States for their work today.
After a long negotiation, I am happy to say that we have reached an agreement on fishing opportunities for 2018 in the Atlantic and the North Sea.
We are now more than half-way to the 2020 deadline – the latest by which we have to ensure that all stocks are fished sustainably. That is, at Maximum Sustainable Yield levels.
This is a hard deadline. Indeed it is a legal obligation, which we all agreed on back in 2014.
So with this in mind, what has been achieved today?
To give you the headlines:
Today's agreement will bring 53 catch limits (TACs) to MSY levels in 2018, 9 more than in 2017.
This means that two-thirds of fish in the Atlantic and the North Sea will be subject to sustainable catch limits next year.
We have come a long way: in 2009, only 5 stocks were at that level.
And sustainable management does not necessarily mean cuts in catches.
In fact, for several stocks, we were able to increase the Total Allowable Catch, while respecting sustainability. This was the case for many valuable stocks, for example, for Norway lobster in the North Sea, Northern horse mackerel, 4 sole stocks and 3 plaice stocks in North Western waters, Celtic Sea and Irish Sea nephrops, and megrims in South Western waters.
We can see very clearly that, as the size of some key fish stocks is increasing, so is the profitability of the fishing sector.
At the same time, we had to take tough decisions to address some stocks in a critical condition.
For the first time at EU level, we agreed to close eel fisheries for three months during their migration period. Moreover, Member States committed to additional actions to protect the eels throughout its lifecycle and in all sea basins. These measures are crucial, both for the recovery of the stock and to safeguard the communities who depend on this fishery.
For sea bass, we agreed on an improved package, which should finally allow the stock to start recovering following years of decline. A balanced package, which recognises the responsibility of commercial and recreational fishermen alike. We will follow closely the effectiveness of these measures.
Lastly, I would like to pay particular tribute to our fishermen, who year by year undertake considerable efforts. Each year we move closer to our objective of sustainable fisheries and this will bring substantial long term reward.
Today we agreed on fishing opportunities worth over €5 billion, benefitting more than 50,000 fishermen.
As a result of responsible decisions in the last years, the economic performance of the EU fleet has improved considerably and its profits are increasing. With the decisions adopted today, we can expect that trend to continue.