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COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL concerning a consultation on Fishing Opportunities for 2014

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COMMUNICATION FROM THE COMMISSION TO THE COUNCIL concerning a consultation on Fishing Opportunities for 2014 /* COM/2013/0319 final */


concerning a consultation on Fishing Opportunities for 2014

1.           Introduction

This document sets out the initial intentions of the European Commission concerning the fixing of total allowable catches (TACs) and effort levels in European waters and for European fishers in 2014. Member States and Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) are invited to provide their views to the Commission for consideration before a final decision is taken on the Commission's proposals.

The state of fish stocks in European Atlantic and nearby waters continues to improve. More stocks are exploited within their maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels. Knowledge about the state of stocks in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea is also improving.

Overfishing should continue to be phased out. The main instruments to do this are adjustments in levels of fishing opportunities, with adaptations to the permitted structure of fishing gear to improve selectivity. Following the expected adoption of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, based on a proposal from the Commission[1], it is anticipated that from 2014 obligations to land all fish caught will gradually come into force on a fishery-by-fishery basis. This should also improve fish stock conservation.

Ending overfishing will mean greatly reducing the risk of commercial fish collapses, improving the profitability of fishing fleets, lowering carbon emissions and fuel consumption and ensuring a more stable and reliable supply of fish to consumers. It also means reducing the impact on the marine environment and on vulnerable species such as dolphins and corals. These actions will contribute to achieving good environmental status by 2020 as provided for by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive[2].

Ending overfishing is also part of the solution to ending discards as more fish will have a chance to grow to a valuable size and it will be much easier for fishermen to take catches of good-sized fish without taking the smaller fish.

Given the benefits of MSY fishing, all efforts should be made to reach this condition as soon as possible. The Commission intends to follow the scientific advice of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) on achieving MSY with low risk of stock depletion. This is the same basis for proposals for fishing opportunities as for the 2011-2013 fishing years.

Where biological information on particular fish stocks is incomplete and no quantified estimation of MSY is possible, the Commission will use assessments and qualitative advice made by the same scientific bodies using the available information as a basis for its proposals, applying the precautionary principle in a transparent and systematic way. For some stocks, no changes will be proposed to TACs unless there is new evidence that a change is needed.

2.           State of Stocks

Recent information on the state of stocks in Atlantic European waters (Annex 1a) shows a marked improvement in the proportion of stocks for which scientific advice with respect to safe biological limits is available (Table 1). This has climbed from 35% for 2012 to 50% for 2013. The number of stocks for which full assessments are available has climbed gradually from 29 in 2007 to 46 in 2013, showing an improvement in the science underlying the advice (Table 5). Implementation by ICES of new methodology in data-limited cases has resulted in an increase in the number of stocks for which quantitiative advice was available from 47 stocks to 77 stocks.

There is a continued improvement in the state of the stocks (Table 2). The number of overfished stocks (where the most recent fishing mortality is higher than that which will provide MSY) has fallen from 47% last year to 39% this year.

More stocks are under an advice to reduce catches to the lowest possible level (Table 3).These are cod and sole in the Irish Sea; herring in the Celtic Sea, prawns (Pandalus) in the northern North Sea and whiting to the west of Scotland. Norway pout have moved out of this category for 2013.

Since 2011 TACs for 6 stocks have been fixed by individual Member States[3]. This has been done – subject to safeguards concerning good management - in cases where only one Member State has an interest in the fishery. It is a cause for concern that Member States have been unable to comply fully with the reporting requirements, in most cases due to lack of technical basis for a full assessment of the state of the stocks concerned and for allowing the fixing of precise MSY targets for these resources. It is difficult to assess how far the TACs adopted are consistent with the Common Fisheries Policy in respect of sustainability. The Commission will further review this topic during 2013.

In the December 2012 Council Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK agreed that reducing fishing mortality for cod stocks has to remain a priority and that the Member States will develop discard reduction and cod-avoidance measures and implement cod avoidance plans in 2013.

Current knowledge on the state of fish stocks is described below on a regional basis[4].

Northeast Atlantic Pelagic stocks: Most stocks of herring (North Sea, west of Scotland, western Baltic, Bothnian Sea, Irish Sea and Celtic Sea) and Baltic Sea sprat are now fished at or within MSY fishing rates. TACs corresponding to MSY have been set for 2013 in all cases except for the Bothnian Sea herring. The situation has deteriorated for some other pelagic stocks: western horse mackerel, herring northwest of Ireland, in the Gulf of Riga and in the Baltic main basin are all overfished.

Mackerel is a particular concern. The Union continues to seek the agreement of Iceland and the Faroe Islands to join Norway and the EU in the sustainable management of mackerel. This has not been forthcoming. The total of the TACs fixed by the EU, Norway, Faroe Islands and Iceland in 2013 was again 36% above the scientific advice (excluding Russian catches). The rate of fishing is still outside sustainable limits and the stock will decline in the coming year. Within ICES further work is underway to assess the state of the mackerel stock.

North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat: Saithe, plaice, haddock and herring are fished at a level consistent with MSY, as are Nephrops in the Skagerrak and on the Fladen grounds. All other stocks including sole are either overfished, or there is insufficient information to evaluate their status.

Serious concerns remain about North Sea cod. Despite recent increases in stock size and reductions in fishing mortality, the stock is close to the limit biomass and less than half the precautionary level. Discard rates have been declining but are still around 25% of landings. Fishing mortality rates are well above MSY levels and increasingly higher than the rates intended in the long-term plan. The actions taken to date have not been sufficient. More needs to be done. In the Kattegat, cod is at an extremely low level and further measures such as closed areas are needed to protect this stock.

Discards of plaice and of whiting are also still very high at around 40% and 56% of catches respectively.

However, following the agreement with Norway to implement the discard ban, new gear with improved selectivity was introduced in the Skagerrak in 2013. Work on further improvements in selectivity in the North Sea is also underway.

Baltic Sea: Sprat, the eastern cod, western herring, and Bothnian Sea herring are all fished at levels consistent with MSY. In 2012 TACs in the Baltic Sea were discussed at a regional forum of national fisheries Directorates (“BALTFISH”). A very responsible agreement was reached concerning the setting of TACs for 2013 in line with scientific advice, and the Commission could agree with Council on the TACs agreed at BALTFISH. This an excellent example of implementation of a regionalised approach that should also be followed by Member States in other areas.

Member States have also reached agreement on implementing the discard ban. New selectivity measures in cod fisheries are in preparation by scientists in cooperation with the Baltic Sea RAC. This is intended to deliver a smooth transition to implementation of the discard ban.

West of Scotland, Irish Sea and Celtic Sea: Whitefish (cod, haddock and whiting)in the Irish Sea and the West of Scotland remain a concern. Advice for cod and whiting in the West of Scotland and Irish Sea was that catches should be reduced to the lowest level. Improvements in the haddock stock in the West of Scotland were identified as being over-estimated. For the Celtic Sea some recruitment concerns were identified and the assessments continue to highlight the need for selective measures. The MSY advice for the Celtic Sea haddock was a 55% reduction. Discards of whitefish remain very high and threaten the viability of these stocks. At the Council of December 2012, the UK and the Commission committed to engaging with other Member States active in the West of Scotland fisheries with the aim of reducing unwanted catches and eliminating discards. For the Celtic Sea the Commission, France, Ireland and UK agreed to review selective gear measures in 2013 to identify necessary improvements in 2013 after discussion with stakeholders. Based on the conclusions, the Member States will agree to further selectivity measures to reduce discards in the mixed whitefish fishery by the end of 2013.

Of 18 stocks where MSY assessments could be made, 10 were fished at MSY levels in 2011. For 12 of these stocks the recommendation was often for substantial reductions. An increase was recommended for 8 stocks.

For Norway lobster improved surveys have allowed the estimation of MSY to all but one functional unit. The improved information has alllowed for a shorter closed season on the Porcupine Bank.

Measures have been introduced in the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and West of Scotland to address discarding and to reduce cod mortality. Many of these were implemented only in October so impacts remain to be determined. These measures have been based on industry inputs.

NWWRAC have continued their "Data deficiency initiative" and have had their third annual joint working group with ICES to try to bridge the gap in scientific knowledge for certain stocks in the Celtic Sea. This has been useful and a suggestion has been made to rebuild historic data for the Irish Sea in 2013.

Few assessments are available for the Bay of Biscay and Iberian-Atlantic Seas. Southern hake are abundant due to good recruitment, but the stock is still overfished andthe long-term sustainability of this stock is at risk. The catch and effort registration systems of Atlantic Member States have been audited by the Commission in 2012 and follow-up actions have been decided. With the implementation of corrective measures throughout 2012 and 2013, progress made will improve the control systems of the Member States concerned. Norway lobster in the Cantabrian Sea are still subject to an advice to stop fishing. Discards of hake are assessed as around 6% of total catches.

In the Mediterranean, the number and quality of assessments, though still geographically unbalanced and not regular over time show a considerable improvement. 85 out of 113 stocks of EU interest, or in other words 75%, as analysed in 2010-2012 wese subject to overfishing. Seven out of the 10 stocks exploited sustainably are small pelagics. As these assessments have begun only recently and not all of the stocks are assessed every year, it is not possible to use these data to look at the development of the state of the stocks over time.

In the Black Sea , the situation has deteriorated. Sprat is not now in good condition and is now subject to overfishing while turbot mortality appears to be at a historical high. It is being exploited unsustainably. Though these assessments are compromised by the paucity of fishery independent information, scientists recommend that an international management plan for this stock be developed. In any case, 2014 TACs should be based on scientific advice and be worked out together with other contracting parties within GFCM.

3.           Economic Analysis

The aggregate EU fishing fleet showed some signs of profitability in 2011 driven mainly by improvements in market prices. However, economic performance is poor in many segments of the fleet, particularly in the demersal sectors. STECF data suggests that around 45% of all EU fleet segments made losses in 2011.

Analysis suggests two reasons for this poor economic performance.

Despite the improvement in many fish stocks, the continued poor state of some important stocks means that catch rates are lower and costs associated with fishing –notably fuel usage- have been higher than expected.

Fuel prices have continued to increase in 2011, which reduced the profitability of the fleet, particularly for fuel-intensive fishing gears such as beam, demersal and pelagic trawl. Some offset of this pressure could be achieved by changing to more fuel-efficient propulsion and by changing fishing behaviour and fishing gear. Total fuel consumption by the EU fleet decreased by 5% compared to 2010. Where these modifications have taken place, fleets have been able to achieve significant fuel savings. However, the phasing out of overfishing clearly makes the biggest contribution to economic efficiency and stability in the face of challenges from higher costs.

The most recent figures from 2011 show that the ~130 000 fishermen were employed in the EU - a decrease of about 5% compared to 2010. Greece and Cyprus are not included in this analysis as they did not submit data. There continues to be a downward trend in employment in the sector.

According to information received from Member States by 8th May 2013, data and indicators supporting these statements include the following:

Income from fishing increased from ~€6.5 bn in 2010 to €7.1bn in 2011 and net profit from €324m in 2010 to €457m in 2011.

Income from landings increased by 10% in 2011. The value of landings increased by 7.5% while the volume landed decreased by 7.6%. The increase in prices was greater than in volume in improving profitability. Although the landings volume fell, increases ocurred for certain stocks, mainly pelagic species.

Although the overall EU fleet performance improved in 2011, with a ~40% increase in net profits, the number of fleet segments making losses increased. Around 45% of the EU fleet made losses in 2011 compared to 42% in 2010. This suggests that there is a bigger gap between profitable and non-profitable fleets.

Energy costs increased in 2011 by about 21% compared to 2010.

4.           Policy Directions

4.1.        Developments in scientific advice for stocks where information is incomplete

Concerns about lack of scientific advice for many stocks were raised in previous editions of this Communication. In response, ICES introduced a new advisory methodology in 2012, based on using all avalable information., Where gaps exist in the data (and quantified assessment cannot be calculated) then new procedures are used to draw inferences about the state of the stock using the available data. Information such as catch history, trends in surveys, biological information on growth and maturity can now be combined and used to provide an advice with respect to MSY or to precautionary criteria. This is less precise than that based on analytic assessments, but this may be acceptable in cases where the stocks are small, of low economic importance or with a short exploitation history. Advice on 48 such stocks was provided by ICES in 2012.

This category currently also includes some valuable and important stocks, notably anglerfish. Further improvements in data collection and analysis are still needed. The Commission will continue to pursue such improvements through the introduction of a replacement for the “Data Collection Framework”[5]. In case of continued lack of data, the precautionary approach will need to be strengthened.

4.2.        Obligation to land all catches

It is anticipated that the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy will be adopted during 2013 and that an obligation to land all catches will come into force on 1 January 2015 concerning fisheries for:

small pelagic fish (mackerel, herring, horse mackerel, blue whiting, boarfish, anchovy, argentine, sardine, sprat);

large pelagic fish (bluefin tuna, swordfish, albacore tuna, bigeye tuna, blue and white marlin);

industrial purposes, i.a. fisheries for capelin, sandeel and Norway pout;

Concerning fisheries for salmon in the Baltic Sea, it is expected that an obligation to land all catches will come into force on 1 January 2014.

During 2013 the Commission is asking ICES, STECF and GFCM to prepare for the evaluation of the quantities of these stocks that have been discarded in order that adjustments may be made, where necessary, to the setting of fishing opportunities. These adjustments may involve increases in TACs depending on the extent of previous discarding. The principle is that the total out-take, including fish that would previously have been discarded, should not prejudice the attainment of the CFP objectives, and in particular the attainment of Fmsy. Prior to this evaluation, Member States are being requested to provide up-to-date information to these advisory bodies. The relevant Regional Advisory Committees are also being consulted. It is essential that discard data be subject to scientific scrutiny by these bodies prior to their consideration for TAC adjustment purposes.

The Commission's future proposals concerning fishing opportunities for these species will be drafted having regard to the implications for the appropriate levels of fishing opportunities with estimates of discards included in the scientific advice. As noted above, any such adaptations shall be without prejudice to the attainment of the conservation goals of the CFP and notably the objective to bring stocks to MSY and to maintain them in that state thereafter.

4.3.        Fishing effort

Fishing effort (limits on time at sea for fishing vessels) has been managed alongside TACs to reduce discards and illegal catches. Effort management is a conservation measure used in several long-term plans, e.g. for cod in the North Sea and Baltic Sea, the North Sea plaice and sole, the western Channel sole and the southern hake and Norway lobster stocks (Annex II).

Annex II shows a general, if irregular, trend towards decreasing fishing effort since 2003 or 2004 until 2010.

Effort decreases are greatest for the western Baltic Sea, the North Sea, the Kattegat, the Irish Sea, and the west of Scotland but slightly less in the Western channel, where effort has been stable in the last three years. Only small decreases occurred in the Iberian-Atlantic area up to 2009. Data for 2010 and later are missing and Member States are requested to send complete effort data so as to have a better picture of the effort trend, particularly in the framework of the southern hake effort regime and in accordance with several “Fishing Opportunities” Regulations. Effort appears to be increasing since 2009 in the central Baltic Sea. Beam-trawl effort also increased in the western Channel from 2010 to 2011. From 2010 to 2011 effort was nearly unchanged in the Irish Sea and in the western channel, but fell markedly to the west of Scotland.

In contrast to the trend in other areas, there is no evidence that measures to reduce effort in the Iberian-Atlantic area have yet been effective.

5.           Management by Multi-Annual plans

The implementation of long-term plans has made a determining contribution to the improvements in the state of fish stocks that have taken place since the mid 2000s. It is necessary to continue the implementation of existing plans according to scientific advice in order to provide more stability for the industry and to achieve healthier fish stocks.

The Commission has started preparations to replace current single-stock-based plans with multi-stock management plans. The first proposal to be finalised will be a multi-species plan for the Baltic Sea, which will take into account biological interactions such as predation and competition. Work is also underway on a mixed-fisheries plan for the North Sea, which will incorporate technical interactions, i.e. the way in which different fleets and fishing gears catch different mixtures of fish. A study on the Celtic Sea fisheries has also been commissioned. Such approaches have to be developed further in the light of the requirements introduced by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive to manage the ecosystem as a whole, rather than single stocks, towards good environmental status.

Plan proposals for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay, Baltic salmon and western horse mackerel have been adopted by the Commission between 2009 and 2011 and are under discussion in Parliament and in Council.

In the Mediterranean, effort will continue to increase the number of stocks under scientific advice and to develop international long-term plans. According to the Mediterranean Regulation[6], EU Member States should set up multiannual plans at a national level. Despite important delays, there has recently been progress in the implementation of this obligation, which is being closely monitored. To further speed up this process the Commission has started precontentious procedures against several Member States, and necessary infringement action will be further developed in 2013. Actions are being undertaken at GFCM level in order to improve the management framework at sub-regional level. These actions are expected to improve decision–making for the establishment of international multiannual plans. As a result a proposal to establish an international management plan for small pelagic stocks in the Adriatic is expected to be tabled in the 37th Session of GFCM. In the Black Sea the first steps towards the establishment of an international management plan for turbot are also being undertaken.

6.           Method for Proposing TACs

6.1.        Principles for setting TACs

Where long-term plans governing TACs or effort limits apply, these have to be followed. The Commission will also propose TACs or effort limits at levels consistent with Commission proposals for long-term plans. Where plans developed by the Regional Advisory Councils have been assessed by ICES and STECF as conforming to MSY standards, such plans will also be followed. However, where plans have achieved their recovery objectives and where they no longer provide for the setting of annual fishing opportunities, the Commission will make proposals according to scientific advice about reaching MSY fishing mortality rates by 2015.

Where TACs and other measures have been agreed with third countries, these have to be implemented.

Where scientific advice is provided based on comprehensive data and quantitative analysis and forecasts according to the ICES "MSY framework" TACs should be set according to scientific advice. When such advice is available it should be directly used to fix levels of quotas or fishing effort in order the attain compliance with MSY fishing rates by 2015. Where scientific advice permits the setting of TACs at a level that will permit MSY rates to be attained before 2015 with no or small decrease in TAC, the Commission will make such a proposal.

Where scientific advice is provided based on qualitiative analysis of available information (even if this is incomplete or incorporates expert judgement) this should be used as a basis for TAC decisions. Specific issues in these cases are further addressed in section 6.2.

Where there is no scientific advice at all there is a need to follow the precautionary principle in a systematic, predefined and transparent way (as set out in Communication COM(2000) 1 final).

6.2.        Procedure for selected data-limited stocks

In a joint statement with the Council in December 2012, the Commission stated that it considers it desirable (where possible in the light of forthcoming scientific advice) to maintain TACs concerning the stocks listed in Annex III at levels fixed for 2013. These are stocks for which there is limited information on stock status and are of low economic importance, taken only as by-catches or with low levels of quota uptake.

7.           Deep Sea Species

TACs for deep-sea species have been fixed for 2014[7] and no alterations are foreseen.

8.           Schedule

The planned timetable of work is as follows. As per usual practise, the Commission will present separate proposals to Council concerning fishing opportunities for short lived species as appropriate throughout the year.

Fishing Opportunities Regulation || Advice Available || Commission Proposal || Possible adoption by Council

Stocks in Atlantic, North Sea, Antarctic and other areas || July to December || October || December

Baltic Sea || Early June || Mid September || October

Black Sea || Late October || November || December

ANNEX Ia –Summary of Scientific Advice concerning stocks in the North-East Atlantic and adjacent waters

Table 2. Scientific advice about overfishing || Number of fish stocks

|| 2003 || 2004 || 2005 || 2006 || 2007 || 2008 || 2009 || 2010 || 2011 || 2012 || 2013

The rate of fishing on the stock is known compared to maximum sustainable yield rate || || || 34 || 23 || 32 || 33 || 35 || 39 || 35 || 38 || 41

The stock is overfished || || || 32 || 21 || 30 || 29 || 30 || 28 || 22 || 18 || 16

The stock is fished at the maximum sustainable yield rate || || || 2 || 2 || 2 || 4 || 5 || 11 || 13 || 20 || 25

% of stocks overfished || || || 94% || 91% || 94% || 88% || 86% || 72% || 63% || 47% || 39%

ANNEX Ib –Summary of Advice concerning stocks in the Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea

Scientific advice about overfishing for the Mediterranean and Black Sea demersal and small pelagic stocks || no. || % || ||

|| || || ||

Stocks classified according to criteria (reference point agreed) || 85 || 75 || ||

Other stocks not included due to poor data (reference point not yet agreed) || 28 || 25 ||

Stocks taken into account (out of 27species) || 113 || 100 || ||

Classified stocks: || || || ||

The stock is overfished (above Fmsy or proxy) || 75 || 88 ||

The stock is fished at or below the Fmsy or its proxy || 10 || 12 ||

Total stocks || 85 || 100 || ||

|| || || ||

ANNEX II –Fishing Effort regulated under multi-annual plans, as reported by Member States to STECF (provided by the Joint Research Centre)

Figure 1. Regulated fishing effort in the western Baltic Sea

Figure 2. Regulated fishing effort in the central Baltic Sea

Figure 3. Regulated fishing effort in Kattegat

Figure 4. Regulated fishing effort in North Sea, Skagerrak and Eastern Channel.

Figure 5. Regulated fishing effort in the Irish Sea.

Figure 6. Regulated fishing effort in the west of Scotland.

Figure 7. Regulated fishing effort in the western Channel.

Figure 8. Regulated fishing effort in the Iberian-Atlantic waters.  Spain has not submitted data for 2010 nor 2011, hence the data are only plotted to 2009.

ANNEX III. Stocks where TAC levels are to be kept at those fixed for 2013, unless the state of these stocks changes significantly.

Common name || TAC Unit

Blue Ling || EU and intl. waters of II and IV

Blue Ling || EU and intl. waters of III

Cod || VIb (Rockall subunit)

Common sole || VI, Vb, intl. waters of XII and XIV

Common sole || VIIbc

Herring || VIIef

Greater silver smelt || EU and intl. waters of I and II

Greater silver smelt || EU and intl. waters of III and IV

Ling || EU and intl. waters of I and II

Ling || EU and intl. waters of V

Plaice || Vb(EU waters), VI, XII, XIV

Plaice || VIIbc

Plaice || VIII, IX, X and CECAF 34.1.1

Pollack || Vb(EU waters), VI, XII and XIV

Pollack || IX, X, CECAF 34.1.1 (EU)

Saithe || VII, VIII, IX, X, CECAF 34.1.1 (EC)

Sole || VIIIcde, IX, X, CECAF (EU)

Sprat || VIIde

Tusk || IIIa and EU 22-23

Tusk || EU I, II, XIV

Tusk || EU waters of IV

[1]               COM(2011) 425 final.

[2]               Directive 2008/56/EC, OJ L 164, 25.06.2008, p 19

[3]               1 Article 6 of Council Regulation (EU) No 39/2013, O.J. L23, 25.01.2013.

[4]               A table of European quotas and relevant "traffic lights" can be read at A full analysis of the state of fish stocks can be found at and

[5]               Council Regulation (EC) no 199/2008. O.J. L60, 5.3.2008, p.1-12

[6]               Council Regulation (EC) No 1967/2006. O/J. L 196, 28.7.2011, p.42

[7]               Council Regulation (EU) No 1262/2012 OJ L 356, 22.12.2012, p. 22–33