Meeting of the RAC Development Working Group Aberdeen June 15th 2004

The Working Group had previously produced a draft proposal for a North Sea RAC and had sent it out to a range of stakeholders for comment.  Meetings had been held with fishery managers from the Member States and the Commission to discuss the proposal and the text had been progressively modified to reflect different views. On the 24th of May this year, the Fisheries Council had made a firm Decision on RACs.  The Partnership could now move towards the first General Assembly for a North Sea RAC, to be held later this year.

The Working Group considered important features of the Decision, and highlighted points in the Partnership’s proposal which needed to be changed.  The Decision itself would take some time to be translated into the different languages of the EU and would need formal Council approval.  Once the Decision had been published in the Official Journal a North Sea proposal could be submitted to Member States who would determine whether the application was representative and in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Decision, and would then transmit a recommendation to the Commission.  Then, according to the Decision, ‘After evaluation of the recommendation and possible amendments to the request, the Commission shall adopt a decision as soon as possible and in any event shall aim to adopt it at the latest within three months, specifying the date from which the Regional Advisory Council shall become operational. The decision shall be published in the Official Journal of the European Union’.

A change had been made in Article 1 of the Decision, where ‘Member State concerned’ was defined.   ‘Member State concerned’ means a Member State having a fishing interest in the area or fisheries covered by a Regional Advisory Council.  Thus a RAC is open to any Member State which declares an interest.

The role of RACs is advisory.  The Treaties establishing the European Union preclude them being anything other than consultative bodies.  Decision making powers cannot be granted to RACs and the RACs cannot be the first step towards regional management bodies which some people had assumed.  However, RACs can put forward advice to the Commission and member States on their own initiative, and the Commission will be consulting RACs on a wide range of issues at an early stage.  In addition, Article 7 (3) has now provided a specific commitment to reply to the advice.  ‘Upon receipt in writing of the recommendations the Commission and, where relevant, the Member States concerned shall reply precisely to them within a reasonable time period and, at the latest, within three months’.

The structure of RACs is clearly outlined in the Decision.  Each will have a General Assembly, which will not be limited in size, and an Executive Committee, which will be limited to a maximum of 24 members.  ‘At least one representative of the catching sub-sector from each Member State concerned shall be represented in the executive committee’. There has been a change to the latest Decision to reinforce the role of the General Assembly.  Now, ‘The general assembly shall meet at least once a year to approve the annual report and the annual strategic plan drawn up by the Executive Committee’.  The composition of the two bodies remains as before ‘In the general assembly and executive committee two thirds of the seats shall be allotted to representatives of the fisheries sector and one third to representatives of the other interest groups affected by the Common Fisheries Policy’.

In submitting a proposal for a North Sea RAC, the partnership should include a provisional list of representatives.  Member States would have the final say, and would arbitrate over membership.  Thus ‘European and national organisations representing the fisheries sector and other interest groups may propose members to the Member States concerned.  The Member States concerned shall agree on the members of the general assembly’.  The General Assembly has to be created first and then ‘The general assembly shall appoint an executive committee’.

Scientists must participate in the RAC.  Transparency is also an important issue.  Member States have decided that the meetings of the General Assembly should always be open to the public and that ‘The meetings of the executive committee shall be open to the public unless decided otherwise by a majority of the executive committee’. There will be no restrictions placed upon Working Group meetings, which may be held in private.  Article 7 (2) states ‘Regional Advisory Councils shall adopt the necessary measures to ensure transparency in all stages of their decision-making process. Recommendations adopted by the Executive Committee shall be made available immediately to the general assembly, the Commission, Member States concerned and, upon request, to any member of the public’. The Commission and Member States would encourage each RAC to have a web-site, which would be linked to the DG Fisheries web-site.

Fears had been expressed that the RACs would replace the Commission’s Advisory Committee on Fisheries & Aquaculture (ACFA).  They would not, as necessary links will be established.  A representative of ACFA may attend RAC meeting as an observer, and the annual report of each RAC must be forwarded to ACFA.

New financial provisions had been agreed for each RAC, viz:

  • 1st Year                      €200,000 (90%)
  • 2nd Year                      €165,000 (75%)
  • 3rd Year                      €132,000 (60%)
  • 4th Year                      €121,000 (55%)
  • 5th Year                      €110,000 (50%)

+ €50,000 per year and per RAC for translation and interpretation costs without  time limit.

The Commission would draw up a Framework Partnership Agreement with each RAC with respect to funding.  A list of eligible direct costs has been included in the Decision.  The eligible direct costs are:

  • personnel expenses (cost of personnel per day of work on the project);
  • new or used equipment;
  • materials and supplies;
  • dissemination of information to members;
  • travel and accommodation expenses of experts attending Committee meetings (based on scales or rules laid down by the Commission departments);
  • audits;
  • a contingency reserve of not more than 5% of eligible direct costs.

It should be noted that the Commission will not pay the costs of scientific research.  If a RAC wishes to carry out research it will need to find funding for it from elsewhere.

There will be a review of the functioning and implementation of the RACs three years following the date on which the last RAC becomes operational, or, at the latest by 30 June 2007.  On the basis of experience, it will be decided whether any changes should be made.

Discussion of the latest Decision

There was a query from the Working Group about the timetable for establishing RACs.  If submission of a bid had to await publication of the Decision in the Official Journal then it could be several months before any progress could be made. It was hoped that there could be some flexibility, and that a submission for a North Sea RAC could be submitted and discussed without having to await publication of the Decision in the Official Journal. It could be based on the draft Decision. The Commission hoped that there would be no significant delays.  The Decision should be published by July.

Interim arrangements would be necessary before a North Sea Regional Advisory Council could be up and running.  It was suggested, and agreed by the Commission, that an Interim Executive Committee could be established to submit the bid, discuss it with member States and the Commission, organize the first General Assembly and suggest its agenda.  The General Assembly could then appoint a new Executive Committee and the interim arrangements would be dissolved.  The first step will be to submit a request concerning the North Sea Regional Advisory Council to the Member States concerned and to the Commission.  The application will have to go initially to at least 2 Member States, and they would then ensure that all the member States concerned would be contacted and consulted.

It was asked how ‘scientists’ were defined, as it not clear whether the scientists which will be invited to participate as experts in the work of the RACs can include economists and social scientists.  The Commission’s view is that the term includes properly qualified scientists from a range of disciplines, as opposed to self-declared experts.

It was agreed that it is for each individual RAC to decide whether to invite representatives of third party states like Norway to attend as active experts, able to speak but not vote.  There is provision in Article 6 (4) to include ‘Representatives of the fisheries sector and other interest groups from third countries, including representatives from Regional Fisheries Organisations, that have a fishing interest in the area or fisheries covered by a Regional Advisory Council… as active observers when issues which affect them are discussed’.  The Working Group concluded that it was important to involve Norway in the North Sea Regional Advisory Council because of its strong interest in the North Sea fisheries.

In a discussion on voting procedures it was concluded that consensus building would be important within the RAC and that ideally all major decisions should be taken by consensus.  The Decision states that ‘members of the executive committee shall, where possible, adopt recommendations by consensus. If no consensus can be reached, dissenting opinions expressed by members shall be recorded in the recommendations adopted by the majority of the members present and voting’.  Thus, minority positions must be clearly stated. It was agreed that the chair of the Executive Committee should not represent any specific and particular interest and should act in an impartial way.

There were differences between the latest version of the Decision and the current draft proposal from the Partnership.  The number of RACs had now been increased to 7 by the inclusion of a RAC for the high seas/long distance fleet.  The extent of the North Sea had been redefined to exclude the Eastern Channel (ICES Area VIId), and the definition of ‘Member State concerned’ had been changed, as pointed out by the Commission, to include any member State which declared it had a fishing interest in the North Sea.  The members of the executive committee had been increased to 24, stronger emphasis had been placed on transparency and the level of funding had been increased.  These changes could readily be accommodated within the draft proposal.  A new draft would now be prepared and circulated to the prospective members of the RAC within one week.  Prospective member organisations would be allowed one week to comment.

There was discussion of the placement of different interests within the sectors defined by the Decision.  The actual wording in Article 1 is:

"Fisheries sector" means the catching sub-sector including, ship-owners, small-scale fishermen, employed fishermen, producer organisations as well as, amongst others, processors, traders and other market organisations and women's networks;

"Other interest groups" means, amongst others, environmental organisations and groups, aquaculture producers, consumers and recreational or sport fishermen.

The North Sea Women’s Network is a very diverse group, extending beyond fisheries interests.   It might therefore be placed with the ‘other interest groups’.  There is scope for the inclusion of other groups within those already listed in the draft submission.  In particular, the European Transport Federation, representing crews and other fishing industry workers, should be contacted and asked if it wished to participate as part of the fisheries sector.

Funding for the RAC was discussed.  The point was made that the Commission and Member States stood to gain from the establishment of the RACs.  They would benefit greatly from the work and advice of a wide range of organisations brought together within the RAC.  It was pointed out from the floor that the impression being given was that the Commission was funding the start up of a new NGO!  The RACs were in fact an important part of the functioning procedures of the Common Fisheries Policy. It was not too much to ask that the RACs should be properly funded.  It was agreed, however, that for now it would be necessary to look at a range of additional funding sources.  These might include the new FIFG arrangements for 2007-13, which were still at the consultative stage. Prospective members of the RAC should try their best to ensure that Member States and the Commission were made aware of the advantages of devoting some FIFG funding to the RACs.  Other sources of funding should also be investigated.

The way forward

Aberdeenshire Council, which provided the Secretariat for the Partnership, had confirmed that it was offering facilities and services to the prospective North Sea RAC.  It was willing to underpin the Secretariat.   It was agreed by the Working Group that the proposal for a North Sea RAC should go forward with Aberdeenshire Council providing the Secretariat and with Ann Bell as the Secretary.  Hugo Andersson would chair the Interim Executive Committee and Tony Hawkins would act as Rapporteur.

The first task once the proposal for a North Sea RAC had been accepted was to organize the first General Assembly.  That General Assembly would appoint a new Executive Committee and select chairmen for both the General Assembly and the Executive Committee.  The interim arrangements would then be dissolved. 

It was agreed that the Interim Executive Committee should, as one of its tasks, look closely at the new consultative arrangements being proposed by the Commission.  New arrangements were planned for seeking comments on the scientific advice and on proposals for management measures.   There is a ‘non-paper’ from the Commission which discusses ways of improving the negotiation process (attached) and a timetable for fisheries negotiations during 2004 has been prepared. The Commission will be starting negotiations from July onwards this year with stakeholders being consulted over particular issues during the period 1st – 12th November. The meetings of the RAC will need to be timed to fit in with these new arrangements. 

A timetable for taking forward the North Sea Regional Advisory Council was proposed:

  • Although the Council Decision may take time to be published in the Official Journal the Partnership should begin the process of submitting its bid immediately, basing it on the draft Decision
  • The Partnership Working Group with its current Chairman and Secretariat should now become the Interim Executive Committee
  • The revised proposal, following prompt comment from prospective members, should be passed to the concerned Member States & the Commission early in July
  • A subgroup of the Interim Executive Committee should meet Member States & the Commission during July to agree the proposal with them
  • The Interim Committee should meet to plan the first General Assembly during September
  • The first General Assembly should meet to select the members of the full Executive Committee and appoint the Chairmen of the General Assembly and Executive Committee (beginning of November)

It was agreed that prospective members of the RAC should emphasise to their national administrations their support for a North Sea RAC and for this particular proposal and timetable.

The UK fisheries administration has agreed to circulate the Partnership’s proposal for a North Sea Regional Advisory Council to the Member States concerned and to co-ordinate their responses.

The suggested timetable was adopted by the Working Group.  A meeting of a subgroup with the member States concerned would take place on July 15th. A meeting of the Interim Executive Committee, comprising all the prospective members, would take place on September 15th in Copenhagen.  The opportunity will be sought at that time to arrange a meeting with ICES to discuss its relationship with the RAC. The date of the First General Assembly of the North Sea Regional Advisory Council would be 4th November.  An invitation from the UK fisheries administration to hold the First General Assembly in Edinburgh was accepted.  An invitation from the Chairman of the Comité National des Pêches Maritimes et des Elevages Marins, Pierre-George Dachicourt, to hold the First Executive Committee Meeting in Boulogne was accepted.

The agenda for the Interim Executive Committee Meeting in September would include:

  • Preparations and agenda for the First General Assembly
  • Progress with the submission to the Commission
  • The composition of the Executive Committee

Subgroups and Working Groups (subgroups for the Skaggerak/Kattegat & the flatfish fisheries have already been suggested)

Immediate and longer-term issues for the North Sea

Future communication with the Commission & the need to provide rapid advice

Interaction with ICES

Funding for the RAC

Some of these items may be raised with Member States and the Commission at the July meeting. UK fisheries departments agreed to keep the Partnership up to date on the Commission’s proposals for future consultative arrangements. Further suggestions for agenda items for the Interim Executive Committee would be forwarded to Ann Bell.

The European Association of Fisheries Economists had written to the Partnership offering the assistance of the EAFE in providing economic advice to the North Sea Regional Advisory Council.  EAFE includes many experienced fisheries economists and has the necessary connections to the fishing industry, management bodies, research institutes and universities.  The EAFE is able to provide independent advice on economic matters relating to fisheries.   The Sea Fish Industry Authority in the UK has volunteered secretarial support to the EAFE in relation to advice for the RACs.  The Working Group was grateful to the EAFE for its offer of assistance.  Economic advice would underpin many of the RAC’s activities and it would be important to have access to a network of experts.  Funding of advice would, however, be a problem. It was suggested that the RAC should establish a research foundation which would both collect and allocate funding for research and advice.

It was agreed that initially the task of liaising with ICES and continuing the industry review of ICES advice for North Sea fish stocks could remain with the Partnership. The Partnership itself has funding for a further 2 years. However, there will be a need in due course for all parties to reconsider their associations and affiliations with other bodies, as the existence of the RACs would force organisations to concentrate their efforts on fewer advisory structures.

The Commission representative was asked whether in the future a representative of each RAC would be allowed to sit in on Fisheries Council as an observer.  The answer was that only the Council itself could take that decision.  It was not a matter for the Commission.  The matter should be raised in the first instance with Member States.

It was pointed out by the fishing industry that the December Council is focused on setting TACs and more recently has been taking wider management decisions.  In the past, mistakes had been made by the Council and mid-term revisions had been necessary.  Some of these mistakes could have been rectified at an earlier stage had advice been sought from industry.  Would advice from the RACs on these issues be accepted?  It had already been stated that discussions were being held with member States on improvements to the consultation process.  The RACs were seen as playing a key role.   Whether the Commission & Member States actually acted upon advice from a RAC would depend on its quality – but the Commission would always have to explain its reasons for not taking the advice of a RAC.


Meeting of the RAC Development Working Group in Brussels on November 19th 2003.

Conclusions on processes for reducing the linkage between cod and plaice with other stocks in the mixed fisheries of the North Sea

Although the Working Group is not a properly constituted RAC, and does not yet reflect the right balance of participants, it brings together the main stakeholders in the North Sea fisheries.  It is an appropriate body to reach consensus and present advice on the main issues affecting the fisheries.

Longer term aspirations 

At its meeting on November 19th in Brussels, the Working Group

concluded that one of the major long-term problems hindering the management of the North Sea fisheries was the uncertainty over the current state of some key North Sea fish stocks and especially cod and plaice.  These uncertainties had been discussed at the Consultation Meeting between the NSC Fisheries Partnership and ICES in Copenhagen in October 2003. They arose from the poor data available on catches because of discarding & poor reporting, the unsuitability of current assessment models, lack of knowledge about the effects of environmental change, changes taking place within the stocks and changes in the fisheries themselves – many of the latter arising from changes in the management regime.  There had been particular uncertainties over the assessment of North Sea plaice.  These current uncertainties could be addressed for all stocks by:

  • Much greater participation by fishers in the collection of data from the fisheries

  • The development by scientists of new paradigms and models, which can deal more effectively than current models with uncertainties and which make greater use of data taken from the fisheries to improve the assessments

  • Greater inclusiveness in considering the implications of the assessments and arriving at management measures, through the involvement of stakeholders

The Working Group suggested that the first of these actions could best be initiated by treating every fishing vessel as a potential research vessel.  Establishing a reference fleet, in conjunction with a programme of on-board observers, would enable information to be recorded directly from different sectors of the fishery.  At the same time, a concerted attempt could be made to refine and apply new fishery based models.  These activities could be facilitated through the joint ICES/NSC Fisheries Partnership Study Group on Fishers’ Information, which will meet in February 2004 in The Hague.

It is the Working Group’s vision that in the long term the North Sea RAC should play a key role in the process of collecting additional data from the fishing fleet, reviewing the resultant stock assessments and planning future management measures.

Short Term Aspirations

In the shorter term, the Working Group accepted that conservation measures were needed to protect cod and plaice in the North Sea.  It noted that cod biomass was increasing, indicating that earlier management measures had had some positive effects on the stocks.  It also noted that the more recent large reductions in effort, not considered in the 2003 assessments, would make an additional contribution towards the conservation of cod. Nevertheless, too much should not be read into the recent improvements. Proportionate measures aimed at improving the stocks of cod and plaice should continue to be applied.

It is fishermen that have the strongest interest in restoring the cod and plaice stocks. However, they do not believe that the additional management measures currently being proposed would necessarily bring about the required recovery.  In particular, the Working Group questioned the extent to which cod and plaice are linked with other, associated species, and whether the capture of these associated species inevitably results in the capture of cod and plaice. It is possible to decouple cod and plaice from other species through the choice of fishing area, timing and the way the fishery is conducted.  Moreover, there are some circumstances when the assumption of a linkage of cod and plaice with other species is likely to be counter-productive, and is too simplistic an approach.  In particular:

  1. The insistence that TACs for other species should be reduced, on the assumption of synchronicity with the cod, cannot be relied upon to reduce exploitation of this species.  Cod is the most valuable fish, and reducing the TAC for healthy associated species may simply force fishermen to catch cod to make their vessels economically viable.  Incentives are needed to encourage fishermen to target the associated species, like haddock and whiting, rather than cod.

  2. In some cases, the days at sea restrictions keep vessels closer to port pursuing a mixed fishery including cod and smaller sized plaice, and discourage fishermen from going further offshore to target alternative species.

  3. The emerging regulations will tie vessels into their past fishing records, preventing some of them from moving out of a fishery directed mainly at cod.

  4. Restrictions in days at sea will result in an intensification of fishing power through improved working practices, driven by the need to catch fish within a shorter time period.

  5. The requirement to designate gear category in advance, at the beginning of each month, will encourage the selection of a smaller mesh size in order to gain more days at sea, and will result in increased discarding of cod.

All these effects will make the conservation of cod and plaice more difficult and may have an opposite effect to that intended.

There are circumstances where loosening the linkage between cod and associated species, and increasing the TACs for these species, would bring real conservation benefits, by encouraging fishing on these other species and reducing fishing pressure upon cod.  There are two complementary measures, which would allow the linkage between cod and associated species to be loosened:

  • Spatial measures: the designation of areas where associated species could be exploited with minimal risk to cod.  This principle has already been accepted through the designation of unrestricted areas.  The principle could be extended to include real time closures of areas with large quantities of undersized cod and plaice.

  • The adoption of more selective fishing gears, designed to minimise the capture of cod.

The current aggregation of catches into large statistical rectangles obscures the spatial separation of species which occurs in reality. With the adoption of spatial measures, incentives such as increased quotas or days at sea, could be awarded to vessels fishing in areas where there are less cod.  It would be possible to police vessel activities through reliance on satellite tracking and by the careful monitoring of catches and discards, including an adequate level of observer coverage.

The key to the success of this spatial approach is the successful mapping of those areas where associated species like haddock and whiting can be exploited with minimal risk to cod.  Such areas have been provisionally identified for a range of species by STECF based on past data (Mixed Fishery Report of the STECF Sub Group on Resource Status, October 2003).  Although some of these areas can be designated immediately, the use of past data aggregated into large statistical rectangles is not necessarily the best guide to areas frequented by cod, bearing in mind recent changes in the distribution of this species.  It would be essential to collect new data on the distribution of cod and the associated species directly from fishing vessels with the co-operation of fishermen.  Indeed, there is scope for collecting these data in real time from the reference fleet referred to earlier, and for defining these areas of distribution at the time the fisheries are operating. The Working Group suggests that measures be put in place to map appropriate areas now, where this is possible, but that steps also be taken to collect relevant data in real time from a reference fleet of fishing vessels.  Fishermen are willing to co-operate in the design of appropriate observer programmes.  The Commission would need to modify its procedures to allow more rapid closure of areas with a preponderance of small cod or plaice.

With respect to more selective fishing gears, the Working Group accepted that the Commission wished to take a longer term look at the practicality of such measures.   However, progress could be made now in developing incentives for fishermen to adopt more selective fishing methods to avoid the capture of cod. For example, additional quota or days at sea could be awarded to fishermen using selective gears.  Indeed, the Working Group observed that currently there are disincentives to the adoption of larger mesh sizes because of the linkage of large mesh sizes to fewer days at sea. The incentives chosen, and the selective gears adopted, would need to be matched to the different fleets, as different measures would be needed in the different fisheries. 

Overall, the RAC Development Working Group believed that it was now necessary to move away from a management system based simply on restrictions, which do not always bring the sought-after benefits.  Instead, a system of management is required which provides incentives for fishermen who are willing to behave in a responsible manner and adopt appropriate and effective conservation measures.


RAC Development Working Group Meeting, Brussels, November 19th 2003.

The Chair opened the meeting by welcoming new participants.  He outlined the history of the Partnership and explained that this particular Working Group meeting was intended to simulate the working of an actual Regional Advisory Council (RAC).  A particular topic had been chosen for discussion, and if a consensus could be reached then the conclusions of the meeting would be forwarded to interested parties.  It was emphasised that the Working Group was not a properly constituted RAC, but that it did bring together most of the stakeholders in the North Sea fisheries.  It was an appropriate body to provide advice on the main issues affecting the fisheries.

The topic chosen for discussion was the linkage between cod, plaice and other species in the North Sea. The problem was that the European Commission had insisted that since cod and plaice, the recovery species, were caught when fishing for other species, the TACs for those species should be reduced in addition to those for cod and plaice. Yet some of those species, like the haddock and prawns, were abundant in the North Sea.  However, the Commission was willing to accept suggestions for measures which would decouple these associated species from cod and plaice, if these measures were practicable. 

Fishers’ representatives believed that where species were abundant, the TACs should be increased rather than reduced, to take the pressure off vulnerable cod and plaice.   This might be achieved by two measures.   Firstly by defining areas in the North Sea in which cod and plaice were rare, and where fishing for other species could be pursued without damage to cod.  Secondly, by the adoption of more selective fishing gears, which allowed cod to escape.

Discussion initially centred on the uncertainties in the assessments for cod and plaice.   The Consultation Meeting with ICES in October had revealed just how uncertain those assessments were.  The data on the vulnerable species were poor, especially in relation to discards and misreported and unreported catches.   The models being used were imperfect and needed to be reviewed.  Climate change was affecting the abundance of different species, in ways that were not fully understood.  The stocks themselves were changing, and new management measures had been introduced which complicated the assessments.  The Consultation Meeting had suggested that new approaches were necessary for the proper assessment of the most vulnerable stocks.

Proposals had already been put forward to improve the assessments.  They included a greater participation by fishers in the collection of data, the development of new statistically based models, and the inclusion of fishers and other stakeholders in considering the implications of the assessments and the development of management measures. There was a real role here for the new RACs.  Improvement in the assessments would be an important long-term aspiration.

There were particular problems in assessing plaice stocks.  Plaice had been ‘lost’, both currently and retrospectively through adjustments in the assessments, yet there had been no adjustments made to the reference levels for this species.  There was a need for further discussion of the plaice assessments, and new data were required on discards in the plaice fishery.

It was agreed that although these assessment issues were very important, and would need to be addressed in the longer term, the immediate purpose of the current discussion was how the decoupling of cod and plaice from other species might be achieved.  Fishers were optimistic that some recovery was already under way in the cod stocks, both as a result of the management measures already taken, and as a result of further measures that had not been taken account of in the 2003 assessments.

The Environmental NGOs emphasised that too much should not be read into the recent improvements for cod.  ICES had warned that there was still a need to reduce the level of exploitation of cod, including cod caught in the fisheries for other species.  Although they welcomed the idea of fishers coming forward with suggestions for reducing the linkage between cod and other species they saw little chance of achieving this before the December Council. It would take some time.

Fishers accepted that there was a need to reduce the discarding of cod.  They believed that the abundance of other species like haddock and prawns offered an opportunity to direct effort away from cod towards these other species, especially through the delineating of cod-rich and cod-poor areas. The problem was in mapping the areas where cod were less common.   The examination of existing catch data was a first step, but was unlikely to be completely successful, as the past catch data had been aggregated into large statistical rectangles, which would not readily allow the different areas to be defined. The cod was a mobile species, and its dynamics were being affected by climate change. There was a need to collect new, up-to-date information from the fishing fleets.   This could best be done through establishing a reference fleet of commercial vessels, carrying trained observers to monitor the catches directly in different areas and for different gears.  Potentially, every fishing vessel was a research vessel, able to provide valuable data for analysis.  Fishers were willing to collaborate in collecting these new data on a finer spatial scale.  There was even scope for defining cod-rich and cod-poor areas in real-time, and for mapping the different areas at the time the fisheries were taking place.  Policing of the areas in which vessels were operating would be possible through satellite monitoring.

There was a need to provide incentives for fishers not to fish for cod, and to encourage fishers to behave responsibly.  The current restrictive measures were counter-productive and were likely to encourage fishers to fish for cod.  Cod was a very valuable species, and reducing the TACs for abundant species like haddock simply encouraged fishers to catch cod.  Restrictions in the days at sea tended to encourage some vessels to fish close to shore, pursuing a mixed fishery which included cod and small plaice, rather than fishing further offshore in directed fisheries for species like haddock and prawns.  The emerging regulations would tie vessels into their past fishing records, preventing them from moving out of a fishery directed mainly at cod.   The days at sea restrictions would also result in an intensification of fishing power, through improved working practices, driven by a need to catch fish within a shorter time period.   Moreover, the requirement to declare gear category in advance, at the beginning of each month, would encourage the selection of a smaller mesh size in order to gain more days at sea, and would result in increased discarding of cod.  All these effects would make the conservation of cod and plaice more difficult.

Fishers discussed incentives which might reduce the exploitation of cod.  One possibility was to increase quotas for the associated species but with the requirement that a proportion of them should be taken from defined areas.  This could be expressed as a North Sea quota ‘of which x percent has to be taken from a particular area’.  Alternatively, more days at sea could be offered to vessels fishing in areas where there were less cod.

It was agreed that the Rapporteur for the Working group would prepare a draft paper, setting out the arguments for providing incentives to catch species other than cod.   The Environmental NGOs emphasised, however, that the arguments for increasing TACs or days at sea on species like the haddock had to be compelling.  It seemed to them that the proposition that TACs should be lowered for fisheries which caught cod was a powerful one.  The cod stock is depleted, and the starting point should be the ICES advice that overlapping of cod with other species was a problem.  There was a need to adopt a precautionary and multi-species approach to this problem.

Fishers argued that decoupling of cod from other species was possible.  For example, cod could be decoupled from saithe through the choice of fishing area, timing of the fishery, and the conduct of the fishery itself.  It was unfair that vessels which do not catch cod should be subjected to days at sea restrictions.

The scientific view was that there is considerable scope for the spatial separation of cod from other species like haddock.  The current ICES advice was based on data aggregated into large statistical rectangles.  ICES recognised, however, that disaggregation may be possible.  Indeed, a group of scientists had looked at the problem of dissociating cod from other species and had produced a key report (Mixed Fishery Report of the STECF Sub Group on Resource Status, October 2003).  The past data did need to be updated, however, and here the setting up of a reference fleet and an extensive observer programme was critical to success in mapping the distribution of the different species.

With respect to the use of more selective fishing gears, it was recognised that the Commission wished to take time to consider the various options.  Fishers pointed out that there are currently disincentives for using larger mesh sizes.  It would be better to offer incentives to fishers using more selective gears, or for fishers agreeing to have only one type of net on board.  Such incentives should be an integral part of effort control.  It was recognised, however, that increased selectivity involved more than just an increase in mesh size.  A more sophisticated approach was required with selection against cod being achieved by different mechanisms in different fisheries.

The Rapporteur agreed to produce a paper for agreement by the Working Group, which would set out the arguments for defining areas of the North Sea where decoupling of cod from other species would be possible.  This paper would recognise the reservations expressed by the Environmental NGOs.  They had emphasised that fishers would need to prove that they could behave responsibly.  It was generally agreed that the current system tend to encourage fishers to behave irresponsibly.  There was a need to move away from a management system based on restrictions towards one which provides incentives for fishers to behave well.

The paper setting out the conclusions of the Working Group would be circulated after the meeting, for redrafting and agreement by all the participating representatives, and would then be circulated to all interested parties including the European Commission.

It was generally agreed that the meeting had been an interesting experiment.  One lesson learned from this meeting was that the agenda for a RAC meeting would need to be carefully set out, to encourage full discussion, while focusing on the drawing out of a consensus view.  It would be very important to allow all those present to express their views.  It would also be important to summarise those views accurately and to present an agreed text, expressing any consensus that had been reached.  It was already evident, however, that the executive committee of a North Sea RAC could facilitate the development of a more integrated approach to fisheries management, in the proper context of a healthy ecosystem.

The Partnership will return to the subject of a North Sea RAC at its February meeting in the Hague.  Environmental NGOs would be invited to participate.