PelAC has written to DG MARE calling for acceptance of a rebuilding plan for Western horse mackerel in bilateral discussions between the EU and UK ICES has recommended zero catch limit on horse mackerel in the northeast Atlantic for 2023 eapo commmission's bycatch only rule benchmark meeting horse mackerel

NSAC has issued advice on the Scheveningen Group JR concerning regional technical measures for Atlantic halibut in Skagerrak and Kattegat. Photo: Saltstraumen Marine Conservation Area

The Pelagic Advisory Council (PelAC) has written to the European Commission with its recommendation on the implementation of the bycatch TAC set for Western horse mackerel.

The recommendation has been endorsed unanimously by the Executirve Committee and PelAC addressed the advice to the Director-General of DG MARE, Charlina Vitcheva.

PelAC has spent several years developing a rebuilding plan for Western horse mackerel in response to the low stock size and uncertainty in the assessment. In their recommendation PelAC writes:

“The PelAC has finalised and submitted the rebuilding plan to the Commission in July 2020. The rebuilding plan was evaluated and deemed precautionary by ICES in April 2021. In 2022, the Western horse mackerelstock was found to be below Blim, leading to an ICES advice for a zero catch.

“First and foremost, the PelAC recalls its recommendation for an urgent benchmark dedicated to the three horse mackerel stocks (Western, Southern and North Sea), and it cannot overemphasize the importance that this benchmark is carried out this year. It is crucial that the data and assessment issues for these stocks are addressed, which will in turn also enable the update the PelAC rebuilding plan as appropriate.

“Secondly, the PelAC is grateful for the Commission’s efforts in its autumn 2022 consultations with the UK to find alternative solutions, in the spirit of the PelAC rebuilding plan, to the zero TAC option advised by ICES for this stock. However, the PelAC wishes to point out that the decision for setting a ‘bycatch’ TAC for Western horse mackerel for 2023, has led to unforeseen practical issues in the implementation by Member States, jeopardising the level playing field for EU industries fishing this stock.

“In the absence of a benchmark prior to the release date of the next ICES advice for this stock, the PelAC anticipates a similar catch advice for Western horse mackerel for 2024, as was the case for 2023 (zero catch). In the recommendation below, the PelAC outlines the difficulties encountered in the implementation of the bycatch quota in 2023 across the different Member States based on feedback received by its industry members, and asks for Commission support to establish coherence between MS approaches to avoid similar difficulties in 2024, as a fallback solution in the event that it is not possible to hold a benchmark in 2023.

On the implementation bycatch TAC, PelAC writes on the issues encountered:

“The industry members of the PelAC have brought forward the issues that have emerged over the course of 2023, resulting from the different interpretations by Member States of the bycatch TAC, and the different approaches followed to implement the bycatch quota for Western horse mackerel. A detailed description of the approaches followed in France, Ireland, the Netherlands and Denmark have been collated and can be found in Annex II for further background.

“The descriptions provided in Annex II demonstrate the problems associated with the diversity of fleets within and between Member States, which have led to inconsistent approaches in the management of a bycatch TAC: one Member State has had to close the national quota after few weeks due to the fact that the already low allocated quota would be fully utilised during the year by the de minimis exemption, and the added complication that catches of Mediterranean horse mackerel are also counted against this quota. Another Member State has introduced an extra hurdle by asking for payment for landings of these species. To avoid choke situations, one Member State has not allocated a bycatch quota to its industry, while others have been allocated quota via the normal distribution of TAC. This is distorting the level playing field of EU fisheries and putting some fleets at a further competitive disadvantage.

“Furthermore, a ‘bycatch’ rule can extend the quota availability over a longer period, but the PelAC industry members are of the view that additional requirements do not take into consideration the fact that many fish species are aggregating. Allocating low quotas to many vessels diminishes the amount given to each vessel to such an extent, that there is a substantial risk of catching fish in excess of the quota and falling into conflict with the landing obligation rules.”

In its recommendation PelAC finds:

“The PelAC believes the issues raised above were neither wanted nor foreseen by the EU and UK negotiators at the time of TAC-setting. The PelAC recommended to the Commission to consider the PelAC rebuilding plan as a basis for an alternative to a zero-catch option, as the PelAC believes efforts should be made to keep the fishery alive if it can be done sustainably. The absence of a TAC would impact the viability of those fisheries taking place in conjunction with the mackerel fishery around the same fishing grounds, risking choke situations. The PelAC rebuilding plan foresaw effective rebuilding to 45.000 tonnes in 2029, through a targeted fishery with a fishing mortality under 0.075, from a catch level in 2023 corresponding with the TAC as set.

“With a view to addressing the current distortion of the level playing field as described in Annex II, and in order to be better prepared for future, similar, bycatch TACs for horse mackerel, the PelAC requests the Commission to call on the Member State groups to develop a harmonised approach for the implementation of such a TAC. The PelAC asks the Commission to help enable those Member States to foster common, practical, implementable and effective measures to the management of fish stocks with a negative scientific advice, using the examples provided in Annex II as a basis for further reflections.

“Finally, the PelAC reiterates that an urgent benchmark meeting covering the three horse mackerel stocks should remain the fundamental priority in this regard, and the PelAC would appreciate Commission continued efforts to support the PelAC in getting this benchmark organised at ICES level in 2023, as a matter of utmost urgency. Should the benchmark take place after the next advice release date, despite these best efforts, the PelAC requests the Commission to ensure that any changes following the change in the perception of the stock that results from this benchmark are adopted without delay. In this regard, the PelAC asks to seek agreement between the EU and the UK to adjust the agreed TAC in 2024 following the TAC option this revision may generate.”

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