Rebecca Evans, Deputy Minister for Farming and Food
The EU Fisheries Council to decide European fishing opportunities for 2016 took place over December 14-15 and concluded on the 16 December. I took part in the usual pre-Council briefing meetings with Ministerial colleagues where I set out the issues important to Wales. On this occasion, George Eustice MP, Minister of State at Defra; Richard Lochhead, Secretary of Rural Affairs, Food and the Environment (Scottish Government) and Michelle O’Neill, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (Northern Ireland Executive) were present.
I took the clear line throughout the negotiations that the measures agreed should safeguard stocks whilst also being fair to those coastal communities which depend on the sea for their living. The need to prevent over-fishing and ensure catches are set at sustainable levels, whilst remaining clearly within the International Council for Exploration of the Seas’ (ICES) scientific advice and targets set for Maximum Sustainable Yield, was a major consideration. Therefore, striking a balance in the negotiations was a challenge and prior to the Council I met with representatives of the Welsh catching and recreational sectors to discuss the likely impact of the initial proposals.
As a result of representations the original proposal for a blanket ban to prohibit fishing for sea bass for the first six months of the year for commercial and recreational fishers was changed. Sport anglers who want to continue to ‘catch and release’ their sea bass at all times can continue to do so. Small inshore vessels that use hook and line or fixed nets that are selective will be able to fish for sea bass all year around except for the months of February and March – the period when the fish are spawning. Each vessel now allowed to fish will be given a monthly catch limit of 1.3 tonnes. The assessment suggests that these measures are on target to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield for the stock by 2018. However, the science on the state of the bass stock is compelling, and other types of gear (seine netting, drift netting and trawling) will be prohibited when fishing for sea bass for the first 6 months of the year.
Following representations I made, the Commission decided against applying an arbitrary cut to certain data limited stocks and instead agreed to follow the science that suggested a roll-over of the current years fishing opportunity levels. In Wales, this is particularly important for Skate and Ray stocks and subsequently no cut in the quota has been made.
Overall, a strong and fair balance was struck between protecting the economic interests of small scale fishers and the need to move stocks toward the position where they can be fished sustainably into the future.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep Members informed. Should Members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.