The 2021 Annual Meeting of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission was held last week
The 40th Annual Meeting of the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC) was held in hybrid face-to-face/virtual format from 9 to 12 November 2021.
NEAFC is the intergovernmental organisation responsible for fisheries management in international waters in the North-East Atlantic. Its Contracting Parties are Denmark (in respect of the Faroe Islands and Greenland), the European Union, Iceland, Norway, the Russian Federation and the United Kingdom.
In opening the meeting, the President, Janet Nørregaard, noted the uninterrupted work by virtual means at NEAFC, however she welcomed a return to face-to-face discussions and negotiations at this first ever hybrid face-to-face/virtual Annual Meeting. The President also noted the continuing development of an enhanced electronic reporting system at NEAFC. This issue was also highlighted in the meeting with an update on a newly functional online user interface for NEAFC fisheries inspectors to access vessel logbook information live.
At the Annual Meeting, NEAFC adopted conservation and management measures for the year 2022 for a number of fish stocks on the basis of the latest independent scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). These stocks include blue whiting, herring, mackerel, Rockall haddock and redfish in the Irminger Sea. NEAFC noted that while the agreements for the first four were not comprehensive, given allocations of the Total Allowable Catch to each Contracting Party had not been set out for 2022, important consultations on the pelagic stocks would proceed between the coastal states early in next year.
While the focus for the management measures is related to the economic, social and environmental objectives of these fisheries, NEAFC also has in place stock and habitat conservation measures, including for the protection of vulnerable marine ecosystems, such as deep-sea corals and sponges. It has for many years closed bottom fisheries in all areas where VMEs are known to occur or likely to occur according to scientific advice. This year’s independent scientific advice from ICES includes the usual check that there was no evidence to justify a change to closed areas. In addition, ICES responded to a request from NEAFC in 2019 to revisit scientific advice that had not been acted on in earlier years, as well as reviewing the evidence in an area with restricted to protect juvenile haddock. No new closures were recommended by ICES in these respects. NEAFC also continued to consider reports under an improved process to identify any suspicious activity by fishing vessels in the High Seas areas with protection of VMEs in place. In this context NEAFC also welcomed new work starting on assessing how its enforced and effective measures, such as the VME fisheries restrictions, could be understood as Other Effective Area-Based Conservation Measures (OECMs).
NEAFC’s extensive cooperation with other international organisations was highlighted at the Annual Meeting, this had continued with numerous engagements, all by virtual means rather than attendance at physical meetings. Nevertheless, the meeting noted that a return to face to face negotiations, as had happened within NEAFC in the autumn, was very much welcomed as the most effective way of making progress on the more difficult policy issues.
Active Cooperating non-Contracting Party status for 2022 was renewed for the Bahamas and granted for Panama. Canada renewed its General Cooperating non-Contracting Party status for the year 2022. These States will cooperate with NEAFC and, in some cases, deploy vessels for transhipment operations in the NEAFC Convention Area. Of relevance here is that NEAFC will be continuing its discussions in the next year on a potential enhancement of its transhipment regulations.