After long and intense negotiations, the December Council reached a number of noteworthy political agreements. In fixing the fishing opportunities for 2016 for the Atlantic, North Sea and Black Sea, the Council confirmed the gradual but relentless transition to sustainable fishing that the EU initiated years ago and then formalized in the now two-year-old Common Fisheries Policy.
The new fishing limits set for 2016 mean that 32 fisheries will be fished in line with maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Together with the 4 stocks already regulated for the Baltic Sea, this brings to 36 the total number of fisheries managed at MSY in the EU. For a few more stocks levels were set in a way that allows achieving MSY in 2017 or (for very difficult cases) in 2018, but not beyond that date – which leaves sufficient leeway to meet the deadline of 2020 set by the recent reform.
A second fundamental objective of that reform was the phase-out of discards. An obligation to land all catches has been in force for pelagic fisheries, but the operation is more delicate for demersal fisheries and now - thanks to the successful negotiations in Council - it can start as planned at the beginning of this year. By way of compensation for its efforts to land all the fish caught, the fishing industry receives additional quotas (called “top-ups”) that correspond to the amounts of fish they can no longer discard and have to bring to port.
Another important outcome is the urgent attention given to specific species. For sea bass, a stock in steep decline that had not been managed at EU level until 2015, the Commission’s tough recovery scheme was readily endorsed. In other cases the Council opted for gradual quota reductions over a few years rather than an immediate drop in 2016, but all decisions stayed within the lines set by scientific advice.
In closing, Commissioner Vella thanked the Presidency and the delegations for the excellent work and announced he will be submitting to the Council this year some new and ambitious measures for the Mediterranean basin.