Carl Sargeant, Minister for Natural Resources
The Welsh Government was represented at this year’s Fisheries Council which was held over December 15 and 16 in Brussels. The discussions at Council were intense and have been particularly difficult this year, set as they were against the background of proposals which could have resulted in significant cuts of quotas vitally important to Welsh fishermen. Some difficult decisions were made but our input helped deliver a package of fishing opportunities in 2015 that follows both the scientific advice and need to ensure sustainable fishing in our coastal waters.
The agreement of fishing quotas is an important step to achieving Welsh Government ambitions as set out in the Marine and Fisheries Strategic Action Plan, for sustainable and viable fisheries. I believe the fishing agreement for 2015 sets us on track to deliver this ambition. There are however a mixed bag of outcomes from the Council and we, along with all other parts of the UK, face some challenges in 2015.
I am pleased to say that we have managed to successfully resist many unjustified quota reductions that would have impacted on the livelihoods of Welsh fishermen and their coastal communities. These cuts were initially proposed by the Commission purely on the basis of the limited scientific data available on the stock. For instance of vital importance to south Wales fishermen are the skate and ray and plaice quotas in the area of the Bristol Channel, as a result of our opposition the annual quota available to our fleet will remain unchanged. We also intervened in regard to the cuts to haddock and cod quotas in the waters off south west Wales and the reductions which resulted were significantly less that those initially proposed. However, we do face a particular problem in regard to Bristol Channel sole quota where the initial cut of 35% was reduced to 15%. The scientific advice to support the reduction was particularly strong. Overall I am confident that these decisions constitute a commitment from Welsh Government towards the new Common Fisheries Policy by supporting small-scale coastal fisheries managed within the scientific advice for Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).
I am disappointed that the Council was unable to agree any measures to protect the seabass stock the health of which is known to be in significant decline. This is a species of particular importance to Wales. We worked very hard as part of the UK delegation to secure a balanced agreement. This would have allowed a sustainable level of fishing both commercially and recreationally within the limitations of management measures allowing the stock to recover and provide greater value to the fishery and Welsh economy long term. We will now need to work with Defra to ensure that the European Commission has appropriate measures in place to reduce fishing pressure during 2015.
This statement is being issued during recess in order to keep members informed. Should members wish me to make a further statement or to answer questions on this when the Assembly returns I would be happy to do so.