By Matthew Barrett
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Fisheries might seem a rather dry (pun not intended) topic, but there has been a rather important development in Europe today.
European fisheries ministers have voted against a cut in North Sea fishing quotas and a reduction in the number of days fishermen can spend at sea, ignoring legal advice stating that the Cod Recovery Plan had to be implemented. Under the Cod Recovery Plan, automatic cuts in quotas and catch days would have been put in place each year if levels were not on track, but members have rejected automatic cuts in favour of using evidence to set quotas. This is important because current evidence shows cod numbers are increasing.
This decision was welcomed by the British Government. The Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Natural Environment, Water and Rural Affairs (or Fisheries Minister, if you prefer), Richard Benyon, said:
"I have been arguing for a long time that reducing the amount of time that fishermen have to catch their cod quota is bad for sustainability as it forces fishermen to catch closer to shore, often on spawning grounds. That is why this change is a major step forward as it will allow cod quota and the amount of time fishermen can spend at sea to be based on solid scientific evidence rather than an out-of-date plan."
By Tim Montgomerie
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Earlier this week an opinion poll suggested that Alex Salmond's dream of an independent Scotland was becoming more and more unlikely. Support for separation had dropped to 30% despite the Scottish First Minister's efforts to take the sting out of independence by, for example, arguing that leaving the UK wouldn't mean losing the monarchy, the pound or NATO membership.
Iain Martin has argued that the London 2012 effect won't help the SNP cause. "The generous, optimistic, outward-looking spirit of the British effort at London 2012," he blogged, "will boost Unionist morale and add to the sense that the game is drifting away from Salmond."
Struan Stevenson, Conservative fisheries spokesman in the European Parliament, has promised to fight a proposed regulation from the European Commission to bring recreational fishing under the direct control of the Common Fisheries Policy.
Recreational fishermen (and fisherwomen) would be obliged to register their boats, under Article 47 of the regulation. Their catch would be counted against the quota for that country. Countries will also be required to allocate shares of their quota for recreational and for commercial fishing.
Passage of the proposal through the European Parliament is expected to begin later this month, with a vote in April. Mr Stevenson comments:
"Recreational fishing is a simple pleasure that would become a bureaucratic nightmare if these plans become law.
This kind of draconian approach would do very little to assist in the recovery of fish stocks, yet it will cause a great deal of damage to tourism and the whole fishing sport.
If the European Union is serious about acting to protect fish stocks in the EU, it should launch a fundamental overhaul of the CFP, not target an ancient hobby."
Ministers are meeting in Brussels to discuss fishing quotas for 2009. The European Commission tabled proposals in November to cut quotas on cod, herring, haddock and whiting by 25 per cent (with a seven per cent increase in North Sea sole).
Struan Stevenson, Conservative spokesman for fisheries in the European Parliament, has commented:
"Fishermen dread this annual meeting. In a matter of hours, the fate of British fishermen could be sealed in a misguided effort to preserve stocks through micro-management from Brussels.
A decade of failed fisheries policies has only served to destroy thousands of jobs across the fishing industry, yet fish stocks continue to plummet.
The introduction of a kilowatt-day system - a highly complex method of linking engine power to the number of hours fished - on top of the other plethora of controls already in place will not provide the solution to our difficulties.
The best way for the EU to show it is serious about protecting fish stocks would be to ban fish discards immediately so that a million tonnes of fish is not thrown back into the sea. Discarding fish during a food crisis, just to appease Brussels desk-jockeys is morally unjust."
Mr Stevenson is right. But there is a bigger problem - and that is the whole concept of allowing our fishing practices to be dictated by a body other than the UK parliament.
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