A very merry Christmas to all our readers from FAL and this blog.
As we await the outcome of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council meeting it is worth remembering that one of the arguments is going to be about cod.
As Monday's story makes it clear, there is likely to be some disagreement over cod and what we are to do about it.
EU ministers meet on Tuesday for annual fishing quota talks. Richard Benyon said he would argue against cuts of 20% in catches and 25% in the number of fishing days.
He said scientists had told the government they were unnecessary. But UK marine expert Callum Roberts said cod levels were still too low.
Cod stocks are going up and it is questionable whether the scientifically unproven idea of ever more cuts in catches is the best way forward. This is what Mr Benyon told the BBC:
"We're not absolutely perfectly at the trajectory laid out in the cod recovery plan but cod stocks are rising," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
"The problem with the cod recovery plan is that it is a bad plan - there's no flexibility in it at all."
He added: "We've got good scientific advice which says the proposed cuts to the quota will have a negative effect - it will actually result in more mortality."
He said that if the cuts - which would be implemented in February - came in, "fishermen, for example, will have less time to fish so they will fish closer to port, possibly where the fish are spawning, rather than where there are bigger fish so they won't be discarding."
He would go into the talks "abiding by science" and "working towards fishing to sustainable levels", he said.
Other scientists say that the only way to increase cod stocks further is to go on lowering the fishing effort. The unfortunate aspect to all this is that the decisions, such as they are, will be taken far away from the fishing areas by people who have no interest in it at all.
The BBC's Kevin Keane, meanwhile, said a "power struggle" was threatening to derail negotiations before they began.
Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) had been given a greater say since the Lisbon Treaty became law in 2009, he said.
And he said some legal experts had warned that, if the EU ministers decided to impose cuts, it could face a legal challenge by the European Parliament.
Thus, what we are likely to get is some sort of mish-mash of a political compromise that will satisfy no-one. That is how it will go on while we remain in the Common Fisheries Policy.
It looks as if HMG is going ahead with the Balance of Competences Review and is, possibly, taking it all more seriously than many of us believed. Of course, the devil will, as ever, be in the detail and one can hardly trust the ministries and departments who are working on the reports.
In a Written Statement on October 23, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, explained the purpose and gave a timetable:
I wish to inform the House that, further to my oral statement at the launch of the balance of competences review on 12 July 2012, Official Repo rt, column 468, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is today publishing the timetable for the review including departmental responsibility for the reports into each individual area of competence.
The review will complete its work during 2014 and will look at the scope of the EU’s competences (the power to act in particular areas conferred on it by the EU Treaties) as they affect the UK, how they are used, and what that means for Britain and our national interests.
The review will be divided into four semesters, each containing six to 10 reports. This will allow reports on related topics to be grouped together. The reports from each semester will be published at the end of that semester. If necessary, changes to this timetable will be made in order to take account of any events which could impact upon the timing of a report.
Fisheries is some way down the list. It will be Report 22 in Semester 3 that will be put together from autumn 2013 to spring 2014. According to Mr Hague's statement that must mean that the actual report will be published in the spring of 2014. Before that we need to ensure that information about the real situation with fisheries is widely spread and ideas alternative to the CFP are propounded.
The December meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (scheduled to take place in Brussels on December 18 and 19 this year) is the big one as that is the one on which various decisions are taken that will affect fishing efforts and catches in the following year. Of course, as these decisions are taken centrally (in Brussels) for a large area that includes many different kinds of fish and fishing they are likely to be extremely unsatisfactory.
In the meantime, here is the official agenda of items to be discussed.
Agriculture and Fisheries Council
Here are some more recruits to the "look what the CFP has done to us" club: the fishermen of Lithuania.
Are the European Commission and its fisheries watchdog, Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, more caring about Atlantic mackerel and fish-abundant Mauritania, or small European fisheries like JSC Baltlanta from Lithuania?
They are definitely not concerned about the interests of small European fisheries, like that of Lithuania, maintain the heads of Baltlanta, once the largest oceanic fishing industry company in the Baltics.
I have news for the fishermen of Lithuania. The European Commission is not that concerned with the interests of large European fisheries. Well, not with the British and Irish ones, anyway. But then, what exactly did the Lithuanians expect? Before they joined the EU they were warned by a number of people that the move would not be beneficial and one of the examples of the EU's malevolence pointed out to them was the Common Fisheries Policy.
Thriving until the European Union’s involvement into its business, now the company has fallen victim to the adverse EU fishing policies as its vessels have been grounded from last September. Blaming in particular the EU Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, for their misfortunes, some at Baltlanta call her, sneeringly, “ a duffer” who has perhaps no clue in her Brussels office how crippling the policies have been to Baltlanta off the African coast after she signed the new Protocol to the EC and Mauritania Fisheries Partnership Agreement, a big time game-changer for the Lithuanian company.
“According to the Protocol, the fish quotas have been redistributed among the EU member states. Now they favor big fleets that only large European countries can boast of. The permissible fishing zone has been pulled back beyond the 20 nautical miles, 10 miles deeper into the ocean from the previous zone. That has reduced our catch 10 times; the Commission has nodded to Mauritania’s demand to recruit 60 percent of the workforce in the country. Besides, the EC negotiators have agreed to give 2 percent of the fish catch for local charities, which translates into thousands of tons at the end of the day. Among other common sense-defying concessions to Mauritania is the obligation to buy ship fuel from local vendors and offload the catch only in Mauritanian seaports, both of which is also nonsense,” said Alfonsas Bargaila, chairman of Lithuania’s Fishing Enterprise Association (LFEA).
Read the whole piece. It is not long. Always good to see people awakening to reality.
Iceland's president Olafur Ragnar Grimsson said in an interview with CNN that not only he considered that letting the country's banks fail to have been the right move, which has put the country in a better economic position than most EU members and particularly those of the eurozone are in, but he also would not hesitate to veto a parliamentary decision to seek EU membership (an unlikely event, given the way opinion is shifting in that country, as documented in this blog), "a promise he told CNN he had based five successful presidential runs on".
In particular, needless to say, Iceland is worried about the fisheries policy, having, no doubt, watched the destructive nature of the CFP in the UK, Ireland and other countries. The arguments about quotas have already started.
Ireland has called for the EU to impose sanctions against Iceland for over-fishing, and talks in September between Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and the EU were inconclusive.
The Minister of Fishing and Agriculture, Steingrimur Sigfusson, said the dispute has called into question whether Iceland wants to become an EU member.
"These negotiations have been delayed, partly because of disputes like the mackerel," he said. "It's becoming increasingly difficult to continue, and needless to say, sanctions or things like that, would be very detrimental to the atmosphere."
On the whole, it is beginning to look like Iceland does not want to become an EU member. What would they gain?
Here is the Press Release that gives a summary of decisions reached at the Agriculture and Fisheries Council at the end of last week. First come matters to do with CAP. Decisions to do with fisheries are on page 10 and following. Mostly they are to do with deep sea fishing and an agreement with Norway.
There will, one assumes be statements in both Houses either later today or tomorrow.
Agriculture and Fisheries Council