- 11 May 2021
Attendees and apologies
- Allan Gibb (Chair)
- Elena Balestri
- Anne Birnie
- Brian Isbister
- Paul MacDonald
- Kevin MacDonnell
- Fiona Matheson
- Helen McLachlan
- Mike Park
- Leslie Tait
- Elaine Whyte
- Kenneth MacNab
- Ruby Temple-Long
- Alex Kinninmouth
- Jane MacPherson (Marine Scotland)
- Malcolm MacLeod (Marine Scotland)
- Jim Watson (Marine Scotland)
- Paul McCarthy (Marine Scotland)
- Warren Devine (Marine Scotland)
- Richard Holburn (Marine Scotland)
- Iain Gatt
Items and actions
Welcome, minutes of previous meeting and agenda
The Chair welcomed and thanked everyone for attending.
Minutes of the previous meeting had been circulated and were accepted. The Chair outlined that the focus of this meeting was to update and discuss various technical and landing obligation issues and also to provide FMAC with an opportunity to discuss the Future Fisheries Management Discussion Paper.
The Chair highlighted that part of the discussion would be in relation to the North Western Waters (NWW) bycatch reduction plan (BCRP) and confirmed that throughout the discussions on the BCRP in the Regional Group, Marine Scotland had sought equivalence so that the same measures applied to the whole of the entire EU fleet and not just to the Scottish.
Technical conservation measures
Malcolm MacLeod (Head of Inshore Fisheries) updated the group on the position of the new Technical Conservation Regulation. The Regulation has now been approved by the European Parliament and is due to be ratified by the European Council (expected to be June 2019) and come into force at some point in July. Marine Scotland is undertaking a comparison exercise between the old and new regulation and will provide detailed guidance to the industry in due course. There are no changes to technical construction rules, although there will be impact for the Scottish fleet in other areas, including the introduction of ‘directed fisheries’ which means that, in order to fish with a net below 120mm, a vessel has to be part of one of the agreed directed fisheries (of which Nephrops is one).
- Marine Scotland to issue guidance comparing the old the Tech Con Regulations affecting the Scottish Fleet and the new regulations
Rockall (6b) cod and haddock fisheries
The group were informed that Rockall cod quota was being used up very quickly and that if things continued there was a significant risk of choke for the Rockall haddock fishery. After discussion with the Group it was agreed that the bycatch allowance for Rockall cod would be reduced by half a percent and that Marine Scotland and Producer Organisations would continue to manage the situation.
The Chair informed members that there was evidence that misreporting from 6a to 6b was occurring, which was exacerbating the problem. The Chair asked Producer Organisations to take a firm message back to their members that this type of activity was completely unacceptable and would be dealt with seriously.
The group queried if the Inter Species Flexibility (ISF) tool was an option for relieving the potential choke pressure facing Rockall cod. The Chair informed the group that ISF could not be used in this case because the regulation requires the stock to be within safe biological limits of which cod isn’t. Members also highlighted that the stock had spawned and historically the amount of cod being caught will diminish over the summer months.
Members asked if Marine Scotland had investigated the possibility of international quota swaps to help alleviate the position. Marine Scotland had looked at this option and had concluded that there was very little cod quota available, so international swaps was not an option.
Regional groups update
Jane Macpherson described the overall discussions that had taken place in the North Western Waters (NWW) and North Sea (NS) Regional Groups. The push back the UK has faced due to the current Brexit position has meant that the UK has faced some particularly difficult discussions.
Jane informed the group that Marine Scotland recognises that some of the communications issued highlighting the progress in the groups has been slow. The group suggested that Marine Scotland could forward the meeting agenda’s when received for input by the group. Jane highlighted that at times Marine Scotland does not receive the agenda until the very last minute, but it is definitely something that will be considered.
Warren Devine updated the Group on discussions in the NWW regional group, which have centred on both the BCRP and exemptions for 2019. For Scotland, de minimis (DM) exemptions concerning Cod (5%) Whiting (7%) Haddock (5%) for the 80-119mm fleets in 6a have been accepted after some vigorous exchanges centred on the TAC reduction.
Richard Holburn delivered the update from the North Sea (NS) Regional Group and highlighted that the main issue for Scotland was the requirement for additional scientific data to be submitted annually for assessment for the High Survivability (HS) exemption for Nephrops to continue beyond 2019. The regional group had agreed to the request for the exemption to be continued until the end of 2021 as per the original STECF recommendation, without the need for additional data. Richard went onto say that in reserve, should the exemption be rejected by the Commission then the previous De minimis exemptions be reinstated for the whole of the North Sea. When asked the group agreed that they would prefer the HS exemption to continue but if the UK was unsuccessful then the De minimis would be acceptable.
The group were informed that depending on the political situation the UK may have to provide additional scientific data in the future and this would have to considered. Industry would have to be involved and willing to undertake the trials if needed. The SFF offered assistance with providing observers.
Jane confirmed that Marine Scotland will keep the group updated on the developments as and when they are known.
- Marine Scotland to compile a list of all the HS and DM exemptions once approved and issue to all stakeholders
North West Waters By-Catch Reduction Plan
The Chair reminded everyone of the history of the issues faced in the NWW and the agreement reached during the last December Council to develop a By-Catch Reduction Plan (BCRP) for the NWW for the key choke stocks including West of Scotland cod and whiting. Given the issues in place then doing nothing was not an option. The Regional Group had been holding intense discussions over the last few months to agree the content of the BCRP, including the various proposals put forward for the West of Scotland (which had been agreed as a negotiating position by FMAC). The Chair confirmed that the UK now needs to give its agreement to the BCRP which has been developed and that the NWW High Level Group the following week would be discussing the final text. If the text could not be agreed and a BCRP could not be submitted to the Commission, then it was Marine Scotland’s belief that the Commission may come forward with its own proposals or push individual member states into taking a lead in resolving the various stock problem, which would not deliver equivalence.
A detailed discussion followed with various reservations raised, particularly in relation to the potential impact of the increased SMP on smaller/lower powered vessels. This was particularly of concern to industry following the recent GITAG trial. Notwithstanding the GITAG trial, Marine Scotland confirmed that their view continued to be that an increase in the size of the panel was appropriate and that this would have a positive effect on reducing unwanted cod and whiting bycatch without significant detriment to Nephrops catches.
The chair summarised the discussions and proposed the following for consideration:-
From 1 July 2020, fishing vessels operating with bottom trawls or seines in ICES divisions 6a and 5b (within EU waters, east of 12°W) shall comply with the technical measures set out below:
a) For vessels deploying a cod-end mesh size <100mm, mandatory use of a squared mesh panel (SMP) (positioning retained) of at least 300mm
b) In relation to (a), for vessels with engine power of 200kw or less the overall length may be 2m and the panel may be 200mm
c) For vessels deploying a cod-end mesh size of 100-119mm, and a catch composition of 30% or above Nephrops, mandatory use of a squared mesh panel (positioning retained) of at least 160mm.
We will request that wording will be included in the BCRP to make clear that equivalent measures will be accepted as an alternative to the SMP requirement, subject to STECF views (around whether the alternative measures are indeed equivalent).
The group asked for time to consult their members. The group broke for lunch at this point allowing representatives to consult their members.
Upon resumption the group gave their support to the proposal put forward by the Chair.
- Marine Scotland to propose changes to the power and text for the recommendation at the North Western Waters High Level Group Meeting
Future fisheries management discussion paper
Jane Macpherson went through the Future Fisheries Management Discussion Paper and fielded a number of questions from the group ranging from “How deliverable are the suggestions in the document and how Brexit dependant are they?” to “Will the requirement to bring vessel litter back to port become a licence condition?”.
The Chair highlighted that Marine Scotland was presenting a great opportunity and that we are listening. He highlighted that this was not a dictatorship but rather a great opportunity to decide what your objectives are for your futures.
Joint fisheries statements
Paul McCarthy updated the group on the position of the UK fisheries bill. He noted that the Bill was now delayed until October at the earliest, though DEFRA had no clear idea of when the bill would return to the floor of the house. However, despite the delay, the text of the Bill still reflected its rushed drafting when it was thought necessary for 29th March.
Paul continued that these challenges were reflected in the objectives which the joint fisheries statements would address. Marine Scotland is keen to keep the industry up to speed and engaged in these discussions and plans to establish a small working group to enable this. Marine Scotland will also ensure that FMAC is kept fully informed of developments.
ICES NS figures advice
The chair highlighted that the early indication was that this year’s advice for some North Sea stocks was looking extremely challenging.
The chair asked FMAC to beging considering what action measures may be acceptable in response to the advice and emphasised that it could mean a possible return to recovery type measures. The group have not been as active as we could have been but the advice is going to make the group have to step up again. We will also have the complication of the EU/Norway negotiations.
Coby Needle – explained that Marine Scotland was not being secretive with the advice as it was still to go through the advice council and it would be unreasonably premature to talk figures. In some cases the advice for some of these stocks has not been followed. The evidence from our observers is that the discards have not been reduced even with the quota top ups.
Coby brought to the groups attention that there was reasonable concern regarding the assessment model as it meant that for one year figures could be reduced only to be increased the following year which did not help stabilising biomass. When it was queried that Marine Science was concerned last year were they more so this year?Coby replied that there was more evidence to support retrospective bias and this will not help this year’s data this year. Coby added that the autumn surveys could help us revise the advice but without knowing the final figures we cannot say more.
When asked Coby confirmed that the figures were expected to be released around 28th June.
SWFPA informed the group that they had organised a meeting to discuss potential measures to address the issue.
The Chair explained the plan was to develop a long term plan for Cod, Saithe and Herring and to develop a management strategy that could manage the challenging TAC’s.
The outcome from the discussions was that more detailed advice was needed from ICES to help with understanding swaps. The meeting was inconclusive but ICES will be approached for more details.
The Chair described that part of the discussions were centred on whether or not the EU should negotiate on a package approach or on a stock by stock basis. Norway had made a proposal regarding herring by having a single TAC for the stock. The EU are quite keen on the package approach however this may be stalled due to the herring issue and it may result in Member states changing position
The Chair was asked how would you classify the advice on herring - yet to be published at time of meeting (expected late May/June). It is thought that it will follow MSY and Norway has an issue with the TAC allocation. Scotland will lose out if that route is followed as it will be top sliced from a reduced TAC amount. Within the EU group it is DK that utilises it so it will be interesting to see if the position sifts towards the cod.
The group posed the question Will the Cion want to put some supplementary measures to support TAC’s - is the SG prepared to draw up a plan rather than have them enforce? .
The Chair replied that Marine Scotland is being proactive and we will be drawing proposals together.
North Sea Whiting and Saithe
The group queried if and when the update for the incorrect TAC amounts will be seen.
Ben Dipper replied that it was expected to see the amendments in the second TQR issued for this year. Marine Scotland has already reassured the industry that we are managing the stocks on the revised figures.
Ben expanded further on the package approach to negotiations. In this case it is only DK that has the herring problem and Scotland is the second to DK in terms of being affected. It would be expected for Norway to play hardball, there are some attractive aspects for the package approach however, the species by species approach Norway will use as a means to have some sort of leverage over the EU.
Inter Species Flexibility (ISF)
The group asked would there be a chance of using this tool to alleviate the situation with cod in the North Sea and queried what would be needed from the industry to enable its use.
The Chair replied that the stock involved would have to be within safe biological limits to be eligible.
The group queried as to the position of the Defra ISF scheme that ran throughout 2018? The group recognised that it was unlikely Defra would pay compensation as a result of the difficulties with the ISF scheme but they have recognised that they made a mistake.
Some members of the group informed the rest that they had spoken to the MMO at the time and had been reassured that it did not affect banking. The MMO is not acknowledging this guidance was issued but there is now a meeting arranged to discuss ISF and Fully Documented Fisheries (FDF) and Remote Electronic Monitoring (REM).
Windsock and Tech Con
The group asked if the Scottish Government would allow the windsock closure to be removed once the new Tech Con regulations were in force?
The Chair replied that the Scottish Government had no intention of reinstating the windsock closure - it is envisaged that the Western Isles MPA would protect spawning stock once in force.
With that the Chair summarised the difficult conversations that had been undertaken and thanked all for their contributions and closed the meeting.
Meeting closed 16:00hrs.