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After a two-day negotiation that some participants such as the Spanish Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, have described as “long and difficult”, the European Union Council closed its fisheries negotiation last night in Brussels. Ministers approved fishing opportunities for 2023 in the Atlantic, the North Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Black Sea, as well as certain deep-sea stocks for 2023 and 2024. The agreement includes catching limits for more than 200 commercial fish stocks. Of these, more than 100 are jointly managed with the United Kingdom.

The EU Council also marked that, given that there are still ongoing EU-RU and EU-NO bilateral discussions on shared fish stocks, ministers agreed on provisional catch limits for the first three months of 2023, pending a final agreement. Seasonality was taken into account, especially for those fisheries that take place in the first part of the year. The provisional limits set include a temporary extension of the existing fishing possibilities for the first three months with a proportion of 25% of the total allowable catches (TAC) levels for the year to cover the first quarter of 2023. Ministers agreed on a similar approach for stocks jointly managed with Norway.

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“The agreement is the result of two long days of intense negotiations and good will from the part of all member states. This is the best outcome we could secure to ensure continuity for our fishing fleets without undermining our sustainability commitments. We have proved that the Council is determined to preserve and restore fish stocks at sustainable levels, and at the same time to protect the future of communities which depends on fishing”, said Zdeněk Nekula, Czech Minister for Agriculture, and chairman of the session.

Agriculture and Fisheries Council roundtable at Brussels, Belgium, last Sunday, December 11th. Photo: European Union.
Agriculture and Fisheries Council roundtable at Brussels, Belgium, last Sunday, December 11th. Photo: European Union.

Atlantic and North Sea

Following scientific advice and with the objective of safeguarding stocks – as has been done in the agreements for North Sea cod and Northeast Atlantic mackerel fishing quotas – in the Atlantic and North Sea area, areas shared with the UK and Norway, ministers agreed to reduce Norway lobster catch limits in the southern Bay of Biscay (FU 31) by -14% and in FU 9 and 10 by -16%, as well as reducing sole catch limits by -30% in Skagerrak and Kattegat. They also agreed to maintain the ban on selective cod fishing in Kattegat and to extend the three pollock TACs in the Bay of Biscay and Portuguese waters.

Also following scientific advice, in this case positive thanks to the improved state of the stocks, the EU Council has approved an increase in the catch limits for megrims (+33%) and anglerfishes (+12%) in the south Bay of Biscay and Portuguese waters; whiting (+5%) in the Bay of Biscay, and sole (+20%) in the northern and central Bay of Biscay; southern hake (+10%) in the southern Bay of Biscay and Portuguese water; Norway lobster (+19%) in the North, Central, Offshore Bay, and West of the Bay of Biscay; plaice (+91%) in the Kattegat; and horse mackerel (+15%) in Portuguese waters. In addition, the ministers also agreed on a roll-over for Norway lobster in Skagerrak and Kattegat, plaice in the West of Ireland and in the Bay of Biscay and Atlantic Iberian waters, as well as for sole in the West of Ireland and the Cantabrian Sea and Atlantic Iberian waters.

Regarding deep-sea stocks, targeted fisheries remain prohibited for roundnose grenadier in Skagerrak and Kattegat with a reduction of the by-catch quota of -60% to 2 tonnes. In addition, ministers agreed on a -4% reduction for red seabream in Atlantic Iberian waters and a roll-over for red seabream in Azores waters.

Additionally, for shared stocks where the stock only occurs in EU waters and the EU sets the TAC independently, ministers agreed on a -10% reduction for undulate ray in the Bay of Biscay and in Atlantic Iberian waters. Moreover, for those shared stocks where the stock is only found in EU waters, so the EU sets the TAC independently, they agreed on a -10% reduction for undulate ray in the Bay of Biscay and in Atlantic Iberian waters.

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Mediterranean and Black Sea

To protect demersal stocks, and in line with the EU’s legal obligation to achieve maximum sustainable yield for these stocks by 2025, the EU Council agreed to reduce fishing effort for trawlers in the Western Mediterranean by -7%. In addition, they also agreed to continue the use of the compensation mechanism established in 2022 that allocates +3.5% additional days to eligible trawlers under specific conditions as an incentive to increase stock protection through, for example, selectivity or closures.

Ministers also agreed to freeze long liners’ efforts at 2022 levels to protect the hake spawners, essential for the rapid recovery of the stock. They also approved reducing catch limits for stocks of blue and red shrimp in the Alboran Sea, Balearic Islands, Northern Spain and Gulf of Lion by –5%, and stocks of blue and red shrimp and giant red shrimp in Corsica Island, Ligurian Sea, Tyrrhenian Sea and Sardinia Island by -3%. In the Black Sea, the existing the existing transitional TAC and quotas for turbot will be extended for 2023. In addition, the EU will extend the unused EU turbot quota of 22.5 tons from 2021 to 2023 as established under the revised multi-annual management plan for this species.

Finally, the EU council approved a comprehensive package to protect the eel and help restore this unique stock in European waters. Ministers agreed to ban recreational fishing and extend the closure of any commercial eel fishing activity to six months in marine and adjacent brackish waters in the Northeast Atlantic (including the Baltic Sea) and the Mediterranean (excluding the Black Sea). The measure will be implemented in a differentiated manner for each member state, taking into account the different migration periods in the various sea basins.

The regulations will be formally adopted by the Council at a forthcoming meeting and published in the Official Journal after finalization by the Council’s legal and linguistic experts. However, the provisions will apply retroactively as of January 1, 2023. You can see the total allowable catches for 2023 by clicking here.

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