Dear colleagues,

Today, the Council has come to an agreement about the fishing opportunities for 2021 in the Atlantic and the North Sea, as well as the Mediterranean and Black Seas, and for 2021/22 for deep-sea stocks.

As always in the December Council the negotiations were intense. This year the Agrifish Council did not convene in November, therefore over the last two days the Fisheries ministers had to agree on three proposals for fishing opportunities, in the North Sea and the Atlantic, in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and the deep-sea stocks. This made this December Council exceptionally challenging.

The stakes of the negotiations were very high, as we needed to address all three sustainability pillars – environmental, social and economic. The EU’s fleet has suffered from the COVID-19 crisis and is facing uncertainty due to still ongoing EU-UK negotiations. With urgent support measures in last  spring, we have been able to bring a slight relief. But today we also needed to give our fishermen and women a perspective beyond 2021.

On the stocks managed exclusively by the EU we brought 9 out of 9 TACs at MSY, 9 out of 14 TACs in line with precautionary advice, as well as set 2 by-catch TACs and 1 TAC for scientific purposes.

With regard to the Mediterranean and Black Sea fishing opportunities this year, I am pleased to see the important measures agreed on the European eel, the red coral in the Mediterranean, turbot and sprat in the Black Sea and small pelagics and demersals in the Adriatic. We need to consolidate existing management plans and develop new ones to ensure the sustainable exploitation of the stocks concerned because conservation pays off, as proven by the latest evaluation of the FAO report State of Mediterranean and Black Sea Fisheries, presented two days ago.

On the western Mediterranean, the Council has agreed to decrease the fishing effort by 7.5% in addition to the 10% effort reduction for 2020 that was already included in the Western Mediterranean multi-annual plan. Openly, I regret that the ministers were not ready to fully take into account the scientific advice and agree on more ambitious effort reductions that would have allowed us to restore the fish stocks to sustainable levels and to ensure the long term the socio-economic viability of the fishermen and women operating in the region.

The scientific advice was very clear on the extremely poor state of the demersal stocks and on what measures are required: 19 stocks out of 22 remain dramatically overfished.  

With today’s outcome, on the other hand, we still remain on a path towards reaching MSY by 2025, in line with the requirements of the Western Mediterranean multi-annual plan. 

Our negotiations for the Atlantic and North Sea went quite differently from what we are used to. We only discussed 25 TACs, given that the bulk of the fish stocks is shared with the United Kingdom. As you perfectly know, we are still negotiating our future agreement with them. As a transition measure, the Council has decided to proportionally roll over the TACs for 2020 into the first 3 months of 2021, with several limited exceptions, due to seasonality and particularly worrying scientific advices. This decision will allow our fishermen and women to continue their activities as we finalise negotiations and consultations with our neighbours across the Channel and with Norway.

The discussion on stocks with MSY advice was very straightforward, as we have a legal obligation to achieve MSY by this year. Member States have also respected their legal obligation to take additional measures to protect and rebuild stocks that are not in a good shape in line with the provisions of the multi-annual plans. This is the case for cod in the Kattegat, where we will continue the measures agreed last year, including limiting the TAC to by-catches only. We have also agreed to set the catch limit for Norway lobster – which is a fishery with high by-catches of cod – at the lowest point of the MSY range.

It was also important for the Commission to improve on those stocks that received precautionary advice. Over the course of the years, we have experienced that, when not adhering to the precautionary advice, drastic measures were needed later on to prevent stocks from collapsing. Baltic Eastern cod is a very good example. Conversely, in those cases where we did follow the advice, stocks restored quickly. So there are no excuses not to follow the precautionary advice in the interest of our fishing communities. I am therefore pleased that Member States have followed this reasoning and accepted to set the TACs at precautionary levels for 9 stocks out of 14.

Finally, I can also confirm that the outcome on deep-sea species is in line with the Commission’s proposal and with scientific advice.

Together with the outcome of the Baltic fisheries negotiations in October, this means 14 out of 15 TACs exclusively managed by the EU are set at MSY for 2021. 12 TACs out of 17 will be in line with precautionary advice.

Getting to the end, I would like to thank the German Presidency and the colleagues for their hard work, especially under these difficult circumstances.

Thank you.

*****

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