Scottish fishermen will have to halve the amount of cod they land next year, after a decision made by the European Union was a result of Brexit the Scottish Government claimed today.
Quotas for 2020 were agreed at this year's annual EU fisheries negotiations, which concluded in the early hours today - the last December Council attended by the UK before it becomes an independent coastal state.
It was agreed that cod quotas will be cut by 50 per cent in the North Sea, while limited quotas were agreed for cod in the Celtic Sea, Irish Sea and West of Scotland - just enough to allow the landing of accidental catch.
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While the move was welcomed by environmental organisations as preserving fish stocks, the Scottish White Fish Producers' Association said the cod quotas would make conditions "extremely challenging" for fishermen.
And today Scotland's Fisheries Secretary, Fergus Ewing - who had been in Brussels representing Scotland's fishing communities - blamed the reduction on Brexit, while his SNP colleague Deidre Brock MP claimed the Tories were "lining up to sellout Scotland's vital fisheries sector".
Mr Ewing said: “With Brexit about to happen it has been clear the EU is already prioritising other members over the state about to walk away," he said. "That is perhaps unsurprising, but coupled with the challenging scientific advice, it has made this a difficult two days."
He added: "We still managed to secure a final agreement for West of Scotland cod better than the initial proposal, and an increase in North Sea ling. However, I am disappointed that other proposals – particularly those that would have allowed for more sustainable management of fisheries, and better compliance with the landing obligation - were not adopted.
“We worked for a deal that reflects the key principles of the Common Fisheries Policy – the need to fish sustainably while supporting the interests of coastal communities and fishers. Unfortunately, combined with other negotiations the deal will struggle to deliver this for the Scottish industry.
"Worse, we now potentially find ourselves as a bystander next year, and we have had early indication of how difficult future negotiations might be. Whatever the future holds, I and the Scottish Government will continue to champion the interests of Scotland’s fishing industry.”
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The SNP believe Boris Johnson's government will acquiesce to demands by a number of EU states that fishing quotas and access to waters must be on the table and up for negotiation before any final Brexit deal can be reached.
Denmark’s fisheries minister said access to UK waters “should be a part of it (UK-EU trade deal)… and also the signals we get from the Commission is that they see it like that as well" while the Spanish minister stated that “progress can only be made on the trade deal if in parallel we have advanced on the fisheries agreement, which is very important. For Spain, this is a fundamental question.”
Deidre Brock, the SNP’s DEFRA spokesperson, said: “In the first week of the new Parliament, the Tories are already lining up a sell-out of Scotland’s vital fisheries sector for their own narrow party interests.
"Rather than following through on their pledge of a 'sea of opportunity', the Tories are instead serving the fishing industry up as bait. The remarks from both Denmark and Spain make clear that access to Scottish waters and fishing quotas must be on the table for negotiation before any Brexit trade deal can be agreed.
“And with the Tory government planning to make it illegal for Parliament to extend the transition period beyond the end of next year – ramping up the risk of a No-Deal exit – it’s clear that the Tories cannot be trusted to stand up for our crucial fishing and agriculture sectors.”
Key points of the new agreement include a reduction of the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for cod on the West of Scotland by 26 per cent but the quota for haddock in the North Sea rising by 23 per cent and a five per cent increase in North Sea ling, skate and ray catch quotas.
Elspeth Macdonald, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF), said “The reduction in TAC for North Sea cod will have a serious economic impact on the Scottish white fish sector next year, and will present major practical difficulties for the fleet.
"Despite the disappointing and damaging outcome of this year’s negotiations, we are grateful to Fergus Ewing and his team of officials who, alongside their UK counterparts, worked tirelessly to secure the best outcomes that could be achieved in these circumstances.
“We also welcome their commitment to review and update the stock assessment model for North Sea cod, reflecting the changing distribution of cod in the North Sea, most likely as a result of climate change."
She added: “In anticipation of better days ahead, the SFF looks forward to working closely and constructively with both the Scottish and UK governments as we develop the Fisheries Agreement that will establish the framework for the future of this industry, outside of the Common Fisheries Policy.”
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UK Fisheries Minister George Eustice said there had been some "very challenging science for cod stocks" and the quota reductions were made to conserve stock.
"I know that some of the quota reductions will be very difficult for some sectors of the industry and there has been considerable debate this year about the importance of by catch allowances to support the delivery of the discard ban," he said.
"However, we also know that, to protect the profitability of fisheries in the future, we must fish sustainably today. Some of the problems have been exacerbated by the fact that the EU's outdated method for sharing quota between member states means that the UK gets a very small share of the cod in our own waters.
"As we leave the EU and become an independent coastal state, we will be in a position to address the unfairness that is inherent in the Common Fisheries Policy."
Once the UK has left the EU, it will become an independent coastal state and negotiate on fisheries as a third country with the EU and other coastal states such as Norway and the Faroe Islands.
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Mike Park, chief executive of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, said next year would be difficult for his members in light of the quotas.
He said: "Cod is an important part of the mixed fishery for my members and a reduction in what they can catch on this scale will be extremely challenging.
"Due most likely to climate change, the distribution of the species in the North Sea has changed markedly, with a pronounced northwards movement.
"It is especially disappointing that the European Commission failed to recognise the validity of the arguments made by the industry across Europe for a more gradual reduction in total allowable catch over time to aid recovery.
"In the next year, as the UK prepares to leave the Common Fisheries Policy, it is vital that the right scientific work is done to improve our understanding of the current status of the stock to enable better decisions to be taken on fishing opportunities for 2021."
However, environmentalists welcomed the decision.
Alec Taylor, head of marine policy at WWF, said: "This is a good decision, which we hope will offer this iconic but struggling North Sea cod population a much-needed chance of recovery.
"But it must be accompanied by supporting measures that are monitored and properly enforced. At a time when our seas face huge threats such as climate change and overfishing, the UK can lead the world by demonstrating sustainable, responsible management of our fisheries."