The PECH Committee got an update today on the fisheries negotiations with the UK
MEPs from the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament (PECH Committee) have demanded a swift conclusion on quota negotiations with the UK to give certainty to the EU fishing industry.
The current contingency plan for fisheries in UK waters expires on 31 March next but the Commission has proposed to extend the period until the end of July with the EU member states set to decide next week.
The vote on the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) has been delayed meaning that the fishery sector in the EU is now facing a time of uncertainty as total allowable catches (TACs) in UK waters have not been set for 2021.
Other issues such as the delivery of fishing licenses for UK waters have been an impending issue for the European fishing fleet since the start of the year.
Today, Maja Kirchner from the DG MARE addressed the members of the PECH Committee to give them an update on the situation.
“We have focused very much on the consultations on the fishing opportunities for 2021 with the UK,” she said. “The consultations are undertaken under that TCA. Once those consultations are concluded and the Specialized Committee on Fisheries has been set up, there is that coming, unfortunately, another deadline to us that we will engage.
“So, by the 01 July 2021, the Specialized Committee on Fisheries has to adopt the guidelines for the setting of provisional TACs for special stocks.
“The parties need to cooperate to set the schedule for the next fisheries opportunities consultations and given the particular circumstances. This year this was not yet concluded by the 31 January, as the TACs is actually set in the TCA itself.
“Then the next deadline is 01 July 2021. The parties have to request advice from ICES, the international scientific body, on the alignment of certain fisheries management areas, and on the assessment units which ICES uses to assess the different stocks.
“We intend to normalize and to structure discussions with the UK on management issues where we have a mutual interest by moving these into the remit of this Specialized Committee on Fisheries as soon as possible. Given the very close links between both sides, we think that engaging in a regular dialogue with the UK is a really very, very important because we have to ensure that both sides respect the principles and the objectives of the TCA.
“Let me now also say something on licenses which is a very important matter also for our fishing industry.
“As you know one of the main challenges in implementing the fisheries heading of the Trading and Cooperation Agreement was that we had to timely secure access for our fishermen and obtaining licenses so that they could go and fish in UK waters.
“Here, I’m happy to report to you that we have made much progress. We have at the moment around 1600 vessels that have an authorization to fish in the UK exclusive economic zone and where needed, authorizations have been obtained in the UK territorial waters.
“So for this part of our fleet we have been able to smoothly secure continuity and we have now a stable access for fishing activities.
“Fishermen can actually fish like they have done before 01 January 2021.
“We have not only good news to report, but we also have some elements of concern, and particular regarding authorizations in the Crown dependencies Jersey and Guernsey. Here, we have only been able to cooperate under temporary arrangements, and that’s despite the fact that we have sought several times at the highest political levels, cooperation from the UK on this particular matter.
“We continue to have very close contact with the UK authorities, but we have to share with you our disappointment that we are now at 18 March and there is still no final solution at hand.
“It is really our objective to work with the UK authorities closely as we have done and to come to a conclusion on this very important subject for our fleets.
“Let me now say some on the actual consultations on fishing opportunities.
“As you are aware, we are currently consulting with the UK on how much our fishermen and UK fishermen should fish in 2021. We want to replace the provisional quotas that we have put in place in the December Council last year.
“We aim to have an agreement with the UK as swiftly as possible. We want to do this because we see the absolute need to give certainty and transparency and credibility also to our fishing industry for the rest of the year.
“These consultations with the UK are taking place in line with Article Six of the TCA and this article says that the parties have to agree these quotas on the basis of the best available science and also based on other relevant factors such as socioeconomic aspects.
“In addition, the Commission is negotiating based on the mandate provided by the Council, in particular, we, the Union will seek TACs or quotas in line with the Common Fisheries Policy and in line with the multi-annual plans that this House has agreed together with the Council.
“That means also including MSY, we will seek to take into account as much as possible priorities for stocks which are politically sensitive and we will seek to ensure as much as possible, also a level-playing field between our fishing industry and the UK fishing industry and we have to ensure that the Union’s international commitments are respected.
“Since the beginning of this year, we have in fact conducted four rounds of consultations with the UK and a fifth round is actually taking place currently as we speak.
“The consultations are taking place based on a package of proposals for all quotas that were simultaneously exchanged between the UK and the EU on 02 March.
“These consultations cover on the one hand how much we would fish in 2021, but they also cover other issues, for example the landing obligation, or, for example, special conditions directly related to quotas, also, quota transfers between the EU and UK and other issues where we are bound to have consultations between the parties.
“We have reached some progress in these negotiations, in particular on the understanding of each other’s positions, and that is a preliminary agreement on some quotas.
“But as I said, the consultations are currently still ongoing and I hope you will understand that I can therefore not comment any further at this stage.”
By Oliver McBride