Speech by Huw Irranca-Davies MP to the North Sea Regional Advisory Council General Assembly – 29 October 2008
Mr Chair, I would like to thank the North Sea RAC for inviting me to your General Assembly and for making me feel so welcome. I am happy to be here today. I have only been in the job for a few weeks, but I am already starting to become immersed in a range of fisheries issues – a significant part of the work that I do not least those relating to the end-year negotiations, which are now upon us. I therefore welcome this opportunity to hear your views and comments on the challenges faced by the members of this RAC.
As a newcomer to the fishing community, I am delighted to see the increasing role that stakeholders are playing in fisheries management through their respective RACs and their achievements in this regard. The UK championed the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils in the last round of CFP reform in 2002 and we do see them now beginning to bear fruit in developing practical ideas to improve fisheries management.
The Commission’s recent Review of the functioning of the RACs will give the UK and all the RACs an opportunity to emphasise the importance of appropriate funding for all RACs in developing sound policies to safeguard the future of our fishing industry.
I think it is also an opportunity for RACs to reflect, in the case of the North Sea RAC, on four years of hard work and promising development. We need to look to the future and ensure that we secure the long-term sustainability of fish stocks and the viability for the fishing industry that comes with that.
Before looking too far ahead though, being here today, also gives me a chance to highlight some important fisheries management issues that will need to be resolved this year:
The review of the Cod recovery plan is an opportunity for the UK to agree a more effective mechanism that will ensure cod recovery, whilst providing a more certain future for the fishing industry. While the science shows the state of North Sea cod remains fragile and we do have a rare opportunity this year to reduce the proportion of cod that is killed and increase the quantity that is landed through a substantial TAC increase.
Any deal with Norway (with whom the stock is jointly managed) will require the EU to commit to a significant reduction in fishing mortality. I am clear therefore that we should be looking to build on the progress made in the UK and Denmark on initiatives like the existing real-time closure mechanism and more selective gear enhancements. However, we will need robust evidence of the efficacy of particular measures to support our case. We also need the industry to rise to the challenge.
The problem of unwanted by-catch and discards in European waters is particularly difficult, given the mixed nature of a number of our fisheries. However, it is one we must address robustly, if we are to achieve our objective of sustainable fisheries for the longer term. As you know, the European Commission are taking the issue extremely seriously and have tabled a non-paper proposing some pilot projects (in the Area VII Nephrops and North Sea beam trawl fisheries). The pilots are intended to set targets for reductions in discards, but are likely to leave decisions to Member States on how they are achieved. We expect the Commission’s road map on the implementation of this shortly, but the assumption is that the same principle will be applied, in due course, to all fisheries where discards are a problem.
It is also important that we start thinking now about Common Fisheries Policy Reform. 2012 approaching fast and we hope that there are some significant improvements that can be made to fisheries management in the interim. I am willing to consider fundamental changes to the structure of the CFP. In particular, I want to see a stronger focus on delivering outcomes, rather than prescriptive rules, that secure both conservation of the fish stocks and long-term economic viability for fishermen and associated industries – many not here today. We should work to achieve a more stable regulatory framework with an increased emphasis on long-term management planning, and ensure better stakeholder involvement and the development of a more regional management model. I want to consider with you and others how the role of RACs, for instance, might develop in future under a reformed CFP. At this point, I remain open to ideas about this and all other ideas relating to CFP reform and I would like to encourage all those with an interest in fisheries to contribute to achieving a sustainable CFP.
Finally, as a new Minister for Defra, I am looking forward to gaining further knowledge on all aspects of fisheries management and I look to you for your support and expertise as we go forward.
Page published: 5 December 2008