The December Fisheries Council in Brussels, has been described as difficult as all parties involved tried to find a way forward for sustainable fisheries.

The European Union is now at the stage where it has become a delicate balancing act between fisheries and conservation. This has led “sustainable” to become the new keyword. Governments are caught between a rock and a hard place with many environmental groups calling for a complete shutdown of fisheries like North Sea Cod.

It is well-recognised across the table that climate change is having a massive impact on fish stocks and any shutdown of one species could lead to massive complications economically.

Reaching an agreement to keep all the stakeholders happy would be an impossible and thankless task.

Of course, Brexit with looming large in the background it added a third dimension to an already tense situation. The UK contingent arrived having the end of their participation in the Common Fisheries Policy on the horizon as they prepare to jettison the European Union rule book.

Climate change coupled with Brexit has led to the word “difficult” to be a common theme in press releases after the talks ended.





The 2020 Quota results has been called “A reasonable sustainable outcome in difficult circumstances” by Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation, CEO, Sean O’Donoghue.

The talks were called “The best outcome in difficult circumstances” by Elspeth Macdonald of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation.

UK Fisheries Secretary Fergus Ewing, who was at the talks in Brussels, added: “With Brexit about to happen it has been clear the EU is already prioritising other members over the State about to walk away.

“That is perhaps unsurprising, but coupled with the challenging scientific advice, it has made this a difficult two-days.”

Mike Park of the Scottish White Fish Producers’ Association (SWFPA) said the next year would be “extremely challenging”.

Scottish fishermen will suffer a 25% TAC reduction in Cod on the West Coast of Scotland and a 50% reduction in the TAC for the North Sea. This will have a huge economic impact that will be felt right around the coast of Scotland. The North Sea reduction had already been agreed between the EU and Norway before the AGRIFISH talks began. In the EU/Norway talks, the EU was pushing for 61% overall reduction but it was eventually agreed the quota for 2020 would be 17679 tonnes; half the TAC for 2019.

After the negotiations Mr Park (SWFPA) said “Cod is an important part of the mixed fishery for my members and a reduction in what they can catch on this scale will be extremely challenging.

“Due most likely to climate change, the distribution of the species in the North Sea has changed markedly, with a pronounced northwards movement.

“It is especially disappointing that the European Commission failed to recognise the validity of the arguments made by the industry across Europe for a more gradual reduction in total allowable catch over time to aid recovery.

“In the next year, as the UK prepares to leave the Common Fisheries Policy, it is vital that the right scientific work is done to improve our understanding of the current status of the stock to enable better decisions to be taken on fishing opportunities for 2021.”


195,000 tonnes of quota worth €275 million to the Irish fishing fleet was successfully secured. That was the news coming from the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine after December Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels.

As always there are winners and losers, but mainly losers this year. Yet the prima facia winners were Mackerel which was increased 41% and Haddock which was increased 30%. There was also an increase for Monkfish at 7% and Megriums with a 3% increase in the Celtic Sea. The big loser was Nephrops (aka, Norway lobsters or Prawns as there are more commonly known).

At home, in the Irish Sea (Area 7) has been hit with 68% cut in Cod, which sees the numbers drop 363 tonnes from 2019 from a quota that was 532 tonnes now down to 169 tonnes. Haddock in Area 7a has also been hurt with a 16% reduction going from 1619 tonnes to 1366 tonnes in 2020, a reduction of 253 tonnes.

Cod fisheries in Area 7b-k has been reduced from 750 to 461 tonnes which is a decrease of 29% or the equivalent of 189 tonnes. Haddock in Area 7b-k has increased from 1851 tonnes in 2019 to 2413 tonnes for 2020, which is a positive increase of 30% or 562 tonnes.


Plaice in Area 7h,i,k has gone down from 47 tonnes to 30 tonnes; a reduction of 36% or 17 tonnes and in Area 7b-k, Whiting has seen a 24% reduction of 1261 tonnes and we now see the quota set for 2020 to 4073 tonnes; that is down from 5334 tonnes.

This year Sole in Area 7fg has been doubled from 26 tons to 52 tons but the Sole quota in Area 7h,i,k has been reduced from 171 tonnes to 148 tonnes, which is a 13% reduction.

Nephrops in Area 7 has gone undergone the biggest drop in tonnage of all the fishing and the quota has gone from 7296 tons to 6201 tonnes which is an overall decrease of 15% or a huge 1095 tonnes. There is currently no changing Area 7 functional unit 16.

Hake fishing in Areas 6 and 7 has been hit by a 21% reduction of 907 tonnes decreasing the catch from 4400 tonnes to 3493 tonnes.

In Area 6a on the North Coast, the Cod quota has seen a reduction from 385 tonnes to 284 tonnes, which is a reduction of 26% or 101 tonnes overall. Megriums has been increased in Area 6 from 749 tonnes to 764 tonnes, a 2% increase or 15 tonnes overall.

Monkfish has seen a decrease of 30% from 348 tonnes, that’s a drop from 1145 tonnes in 2019 to 797 tonnes for 2020. Haddock has been increased in area 5b and 6a from 528 to 650 tonnes, which is an extra 122 tonnes on the 2019 quota.

Whiting in Area 6 has been cut from 324 tonnes to 273 tonnes which is 51 tonnes less than 2019 or minus 16% overall. The Pollack allocation has been cut by 39% in Area 6. This sees the quota reduced from 56 tonnes in 2019 to 34 tonnes for 2020.

Saithe has been reduced from 455 tons to 402 tonnes which is a cut of 12% or 53 tonnes overall.

Nephrops has also been increased from 204 tons in 2019 to 215 tonnes for 2020 which is an increase of 11 tons or 5%.


On the Pelagic front, Areas 6 and 7 has seen an increase in Mackerel from 55313 tonnes in 2019 to 78050 tonnes for this new year. This is an increase of 41% or 22739.

Horse Mackerel in Area 2a & 4a, Area 6, Areas 7e-k and Area 8 a,b,e has been reduced by 42% from 30306 tonnes to 17726 tonnes, a large decrease of 12580 tonnes. Horse Mackerel has also been cut in the Areas 4b 4c and 7d from 376 tonnes to 334 tonnes which is means an 11% cut or 42 tonnes less than the 2020 quota.


Herring in Area 1 & 2 has been cut by 11% from 3399 tonnes to 3035 tonnes, a reduction of 364 tonnes. Area 6aN Herring suffered a reduction as well, seeing a 17% drop from 630 tonnes to 526 tonnes, which results in a 104 tonnes loss.  In area 6aS and 7bc, a 17% decrease sees the Herring quota drop from 1482 tonnes to 1236 tonnes.

The Herring quota in 7g,h,i,k has seen a big decrease of 82% or 3347 tonnes from the 2019 allocation of 4097 tonnes to the 2020 allocation of 750 tonnes.

Argentines in the Area 5, 6 and 7 have seen a drop in quota from 329 tonnes to 263 tonnes running a loss of 20% or 66 tons. Boarfish in Areas 6,7 and 8 have been dropped from 15086 tonnes to 13235 tons; a reduction of 12% or 1851 tonnes overall.


by Oliver McBride

The Difficult Route to Sustainability

by editor time to read: 7 min