EU Fisheries Ministers agreed on fishing opportunities in the Atlantic, North Sea, Mediterranean, and Black Sea for 2024. After three days of negotiations, member countries' fisheries chiefs reached a political agreement that, they say, is aligned to secure the enduring sustainability of fish stocks, concurrently safeguarding the livelihoods of communities reliant on fishing.
"After two days and one long night of intense negotiations, we reached a political agreement which will help maintain fish stocks at sustainable levels, while also protecting the livelihoods of European fishing fleets," said Luis Planas, Spanish Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and rotating President of the Fishing Council, since Spain holds the Presidency of the Council of the European Union for the second six months of the year.
In setting catch limits - known as 'multiannual total allowable catches' (TACs), the Council relies on proposals drawn up by the Commission and takes into account the best available scientific advice, while respecting the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and the EU's multi-annual plans for various sea basins. The agreement reached by the Council of Agriculture and Fisheries Ministers includes TACs for over 200 commercial fish stocks.
Of these, approximately 100 are in the Atlantic and North Sea, and are managed jointly with coastal countries outside the Union. Thus, before the Council meeting, the EU conducted bilateral negotiations both with the United Kingdom - they reached an agreement for more than 85 TACs in the Northeast Atlantic - and with Norway, with whom a tripartite Norway-EU-UK negotiation on quota setting and management of common stocks in the North Sea also took place.
Regarding fishing opportunities for 2024 for EU-managed fish stocks in the Atlantic, Kattegat, and Skagerrak, 14 total allowable catches were set. This includes an increase in Iberian waters for megrim (11%), anglerfish (7%), and horse mackerel (5%), as well as undulate rays. Hake, for its part, has an increase of 10% in the southern Bay of Biscay, Iberian waters, and waters around the Azores. The Council also followed the Commission's proposal to set a low TAC for Norway lobster in Skagerrak and Kattegat, and for plaice in Kattegat (19%) to protect cod.
In addition, following scientific advice, to safeguard the stocks and achieve a balance with the socio-economic implications, the Ministers agreed to reduce the catch limits for Norway lobster, sole, sea bass, pollock, and whiting (41%) in the Bay of Biscay. Norway lobster also decreases (20%) in Portuguese waters and Azores, and plaice (20%) in Iberian waters. Measures have also been included for the recreational catch of haddock and, concerning European eel, the Council decided to continue the six-month closure period for any commercial fishing activity, with certain exemptions, and to prohibit recreational fishing.
"We had intense negotiations spanning over three days," said Virginijus Sinkevičius, EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries. "For the Commission and me personally, it was important to reach an agreement that is both balanced and responsible - preserving fishers’ livelihoods in the long term, and improving the chances for stock recovery and healthier stocks. Finally, I would like to thank fishers for their tremendous efforts over recent years to fish sustainably and to live up to their key role."
The Fishing Opportunities Regulation includes the results of the previously mentioned agreements reached bilaterally with Norway and the United Kingdom and between the three parties jointly, as well as with other coastal states. The shared stocks with third countries mean fishing opportunities for the EU next year of more than 1.6 million tonnes worth almost EUR 2.2 billion (USD 2.404 million).
To protect demersal stocks, Ministers agreed to reduce fishing effort for trawlers in the western Mediterranean by 9.5%, combined with the implementation of additional management tools, such as reducing catch limits for deepwater shrimp and continuing the effort freeze for longliners. In addition, as an incentive to increase stock protection, it was agreed to continue the use of the compensation mechanism by gradually granting 4.5% to 6% additional fishing days for trawlers, depending on the number of additional conservation measures implemented by vessels.
The agreement also incorporates management measures to make sustainable the common dolphinfish fishery - an iconic Mediterranean species -, including TACs, maximum number of fish aggregating devices (FADs), and maximum fleet capacity levels. Besides, based on the provisions of the multiannual management plans (MAPs), the Council agreed to reduce the maximum catch limits for Mediterranean species of high commercial value such as deep-water shrimp in the Strait of Sicily, the Ionian Sea, and the Levant Sea, which are reduced by 3% compared to 2023 and combined with fleet management measures.
Also based on the MAPs, the reduction of hake fishing effort in the Strait of Sicily continues, combined with a capacity freeze for all fleets. In the Alboran Sea, meanwhile, in order to ensure stock recovery, sea bream catch limits are reduced by 7% compared to last year, also combined with fleet capacity limitations and restrictions on recreational fishing.
In the Adriatic Sea, for small pelagics, there is a catch reduction for anchovy (5%) and for sardine (9%) with respect to 2023, in addition to a fishing capacity ceiling. For demersal stocks, there is an additional 4% reduction for demersal trawlers, and an extension of the 2023 effort levels for beam trawlers.
Finally, in the Black Sea, the Council agreed to extend the TAC for 2024 for turbot and to maintain a closed period for turbot fishing from April 15 to June 15. In addition, Ministers agreed to extend the unused EU turbot quota from 2022 to 2024. Sprat quotas remain at the same level as last year.