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EU, Norway and UK can deliver on leaders' pledge for nature this week by ending overfishing

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Photo credit: Agencja Fotograficzna Caro/Alamy Stock Photo

As officials from the EU, Norway and the UK meet virtually this week to negotiate fishing limits for shared fish populations in 2021, the Our Fish campaign today called on all three parties to make 2021 the year they collectively fish within scientific advice.
 
A recent analysis of joint EU, Norwegian and UK fishing practices, published by Our Fish, demonstrates how for the last 20 years, Norway and the EU, including the UK, have consistently set annual fishing limits for shared stocks above scientific advice. On average, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) as part of the EU-Norway Agreement exceed scientific advice by an average of 11% between 2001 and 2020.

“2021 will be different for the EU, Norway and the UK on many fronts - one of these changes must include a new commitment to end overfishing of shared fish populations, in order to ensure their common seas can continue to support jobs and communities on all our coasts, and to build the resilience needed to bolster our oceans against the pressure of climate change,” said Our Fish Programme Director Rebecca Hubbard.

“Our Fish is calling on the EU to deliver on its legal obligation to end overfishing, by working with Norway and the UK fishing limits within the scientific advice provided by ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea). Our analysis demonstrates clear proof of overfishing - and all three parties bear responsibility for this.

“Instead of Norway blaming the EU and UK for uncontrolled discarding of fish at sea, while the EU and the UK blame Norway for pushing fishing limits above scientific advice for Maximum Sustainable Yield, all three must work together for their common, mutually beneficial objective of ending overfishing, and to show global leadership on ocean and climate action.

“The fishing limits for iconic fish such as North Sea cod will be decided during these negotiations - this is the moment for the UK, the EU and Norway to restore ocean health and deliver on their recent Leaders Pledge for Nature by putting a clear and definite stop to overfishing. This is their chance to show they are serious, and not just full of hot air.”

 The briefing, Agreed TACs Compared to ICES Scientific Advice in the Norway Agreement, can be downloaded here.

See also: AGRIFISH: EU Decision to Continue Overfishing Branded 'Shameful' (December 17 2020)

During AGRIFISH Council in December, fisheries ministers agreed on the Commission’s proposed roll over of 25% of 2020 TACs shared with the UK and Norway, as a contingency plan for January – March 2021 (to ensure fishing of shared stocks can continue until a more permanent agreement for fishing in 2021 is made).

Q&A

  • Who is responsible for all of this overfishing?

EU member states, along with Norway and the UK. On average, Total Allowable Catches (TACs) - catch limits, expressed in tonnes - as part of the EU-Norway Agreement exceed ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Sea) scientific advice by an average of 11% (from 2001 to 2020). As each TAC has differing quota shares between the parties, and a different assessment compared to ICES scientific advice, it is possible to make this calculation for the EU, the United Kingdom, and Norway. This approach follows the methodology of the New Economics Foundation’s Landing the Blame report series for TACs agreed by the EU Council. The results reveal that whereas the EU and the United Kingdom are slightly above the 11% overfishing average for both the joint management and joint quotas in the EU-Norway Agreement, Norway is below the average, exceeding ICES advice by 9% for jointly managed TACs.

There are two notable exceptions where there is a large Norwegian share of a TAC that exceeds ICES advice by a large percentage: North Sea cod, which is jointly managed, and horse mackerel in area 4b,c (southern North Sea), which has joint quotas and an annual transfer of quota from the EU to Norway. In these two cases it can be questioned whether the voice of Norway in the quota negotiations had been calling for TACs in line with ICES scientific advice (although the TAC for horse mackerel has followed advice in recent years).

  • Where is this overfishing taking place?

In the North East Atlantic and North Sea

  • Is this really overfishing? 

Yes, data shows these TACs have been repeatedly set above scientific advice for 20 years. The scientific advice is for the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and is intended as a bare minimum requirement for sustainable fisheries management; in fact if fishing pressure were set lower at Maximum Economic Yield for example, the populations, and in the long run the industry catches, could be even greater.

  • Surely if overfishing has been going for 20 years wouldn’t stocks have crashed by now? If they’re still fishing then everything must be ok, right?

North Sea cod is a prime example of how setting TACs above scientific advice will result in fish population crashes.

A good example is fishing limits for the Skaggerak and Kattegat. They are agreed during these shared stock negotiations, where a number of fish such as herring, cod, whiting, hake and ling have been overfished, and populations of herring and cod have collapsed. This not only undermines ocean health but leads to constantly decreasing fishing opportunities and profits for the industry.

  • Where are you getting your numbers? Our country doesn’t overfish!

Landing the Blame uses numbers published in the Agreement between the EU and Norway on shared stocks, and the final TAC and Quota regulation of the EU, and compares them with the scientific advice from ICES

  • Why are you picking on Norway? Clearly Norway is not the villain here, the EU and UK are clearly overfishing more. 

Norway is, on average, overfishing less than the EU and UK, however in 2012 and 2019 they were significantly worse. In any case, being “less bad” than the worst doesn’t mean that Norway is the good guy here!

  • Who is responsible for ending this overfishing?

The EU, Norway and the UK are all responsible for ending this overfishing because the negotiations require agreement between all parties.

  • How do we fix this problem?

The easiest and most direct way to fix this problem is for the EU, Norway and the UK to set TACs in line with the ICES advice, and not exceed it. Making science the decider can take the political sting out of tough decisions.

  • What should Norway do to end this joint overfishing?

Norway is a founding member of the 14-country Ocean Panel; in December 2020, Prime Minister Erna Solberg pledged to protect its collective waters, end overfishing and to follow scientific advice. Not only should Norway make good on this commitment, it would do well to demand that its partners, the EU and the UK follow its example.

  • What should the UK do to end this joint overfishing?

The UK needs to commit to ending overfishing immediately and following scientific advice, which its new Fisheries Bill fails to do. No increase in “control of its own waters” will help its fishing industry if it does not stop overfishing, which undermines the very resource it depends on.

  • What should the EU do to end this joint overfishing?

The EU should stick to its guns and implement the CFP by never setting TACs above scientific advice. This is the basic fundamental principle of ending overfishing, which the EU has been fighting for decades, and it cannot hope to advance to ecosystem-based management or climate-smart fisheries if it can’t even set individual fishing limits at sustainable levels.

  • If Norway, EU, and UK end overfishing, will there be negative consequences, won’t it mean poverty, loss of jobs etc.?

Ending overfishing will actually improve conditions for the fishing industry - we will have more fish, which will be able to support even more jobs, fishers will not have to go so far and fish for as long, and this will translate into profits and ultimately more seafood. The New Economics Foundation (NEF) estimates that if we ended overfishing of all EU stocks, we could have food for an additional 89 million EU citizens, an extra €1.6 billion in annual revenue, and generate over 20,000 new jobs.

  • When will shared stock quotas for 2021 be set?

Normally these are negotiated during November and decided by early December, however the failure - so far - to reach an EU-UK agreement means that these negotiations are taking place in January 2021.

  • Who makes these decisions? 

Previously, it was the Head of Delegations for the EU (provided by the European Commission) and Norway who would negotiate the outcome together - they will be joined by a Head of Delegations from the UK for 2021 quota negotiations. The delegations normally meet for 1 week at a time, 1-3 times until they agree. In recent years, the delegations from each state have included their scientific advisors, industry representatives and government representatives. The negotiations are (normally) held behind closed doors, with no access for the public, no publication of positions, and even less transparency than EU AGRIFISH Council meetings. NGOs have been refused entry to these delegations. Here’s something Our Fish wrote last year about this problem.

EU

‘Right to disconnect’ should be an EU-wide fundamental right, MEPs say 

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Always on’ culture poses serious risks, MEPs say ©Deagreez/Adobe Stock  

The European Parliament calls for an EU law that grants workers the right to digitally disconnect from work without facing negative repercussions. In their legislative initiative that passed with 472 votes in favour, 126 against and 83 abstentions, MEPs call on the Commission to propose a law that enables those who work digitally to disconnect outside their working hours. It should also establish minimum requirements for remote working and clarify working conditions, hours and rest periods.

The increase in digital resources being used for work purposes has resulted in an ‘always on’ culture, which has a negative impact on the work-life balance of employees, MEPs say. Although working from home has been instrumental in helping safeguard employment and business during the COVID-19 crisis, the combination of long working hours and higher demands also leads to more cases of anxiety, depression, burnout and other mental and physical health issues.

MEPs consider the right to disconnect a fundamental right that allows workers to refrain from engaging in work-related tasks – such as phone calls, emails and other digital communication – outside working hours. This includes holidays and other forms of leave. Member states are encouraged to take all necessary measures to allow workers to exercise this right, including via collective agreements between social partners. They should ensure that workers will not be subjected to discrimination, criticism, dismissal, or other adverse actions by employers.

“We cannot abandon millions of European workers who are exhausted by the pressure to be always 'on' and overly long working hours. Now is the moment to stand by their side and give them what they deserve: the right to disconnect. This is vital for our mental and physical health. It is time to update worker’s rights so that they correspond to the new realities of the digital age,” rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT) said after the vote.

Background

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home has increased by almost 30%. This figure is expected to remain high or even increase. Research by Eurofound shows that people who work regularly from home are more than twice as likely to surpass the maximum of 48 working hours per week, compared to those working on their employer’s premises. Almost 30% of those working from home report working in their free time every day or several times a week, compared to less than 5% of office workers.

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Brexit

Scottish government comment on efforts to stay in Erasmus

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Minsters have welcomed the support of around 150 MEPs who have asked the European Commission to explore how Scotland could continue to take part in the popular Erasmus exchange programme. The move comes a week after Further and Higher Education Minister Richard Lochhead held productive talks with Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth Commissioner Mariya Gabriel to explore the idea. Until last year, over 2,000 Scottish students, staff and learners took part in the scheme annually, with Scotland attracting proportionally more Erasmus participants from across Europe - and sending more in the other direction - than any other country in the UK.

Lochhead said: “Losing Erasmus is huge blow for the thousands of Scottish students, community groups and adult learners - from all demographic backgrounds - who can no longer live, study or work in Europe.“It also closes the door for people to come to Scotland on Erasmus to experience our country and culture and it is heartening to see that loss of opportunity recognised by the 145 MEPs from across Europe who want Scotland’s place in Erasmus to continue. I am grateful to Terry Reintke and other MEPs for their efforts and thank them for extending the hand of friendship and solidarity to Scotland’s young people. I sincerely hope we can succeed.

“I have already had a virtual meeting with Commissioner Gabriel. We agreed that withdrawing from Erasmus is highly regrettable and we will continue to explore with the EU how to maximize Scotland’s continued engagement with the programme. I have also spoken with my Welsh Government counterpart and agreed to keep in close contact.”

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EU

Leaders agree on new ‘dark red’ zones for high-risk COVID areas

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At a special meeting of European heads of government, to discuss the rise of infection rates across Europe and the emergence of new, more contagious variants, leaders agreed that the situation warranted the utmost caution and agreed on a new category of ‘dark red zone’ for high-risk areas.

The new category would indicate that the virus was circulating at a very high level. People traveling from dark red areas could be required to do a test before departure, as well as to undergo quarantine after arrival. Non-essential travel in or out of these areas would be strongly discouraged.

The EU has underlined that it is anxious to keep the single market functioning especially concerning the movement of essential workers and goods, von der Leyen described this as of the “utmost importance”. 

The approval of vaccinations and the start of roll-out is encouraging but it is understood that further vigilance is needed. Some states which are more dependent on tourism called for the use of vaccination certificates as a way to open up travel. The leaders debated the use a common approach and agreed that the vaccination document should be seen as a medical document, rather than a travel document - at this stage. Von der Leyen said: “We will discuss the suitability of a common approach to certification.”

Member states agreed to a Council recommendation setting a common framework for the use of rapid antigen tests and the mutual recognition of COVID-19 test results across the EU. The mutual recognition of test results for SARS-CoV2 infection carried by certified health bodies should help facilitate cross-border movement and cross-border contact tracing.

The common list of appropriate COVID-19 rapid antigen tests should be flexible enough for addition, or removal, of those tests whose efficacy is impacted by COVID-19 mutations.

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