The Agriculture and Fisheries Council took place in Brussels from 17 to 19 November. The UK was represented by Lord Gardiner of Kimble, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, and Lords Minister.
On fisheries, the focus of the Council was EU quota negotiations, involving decisions on fishing opportunities for the next year for quota stocks in the North sea, Atlantic, the English channel, Irish and Celtic seas. Fishing opportunities are set under the rules of the reformed common fisheries policy, which aims to have all stocks fished at sustainable levels by 2020 at the latest.
Prior to the Council, a number of negotiations had taken place with third countries, such as EU-Norway, which set fishing opportunities for certain stocks. The EU share of these opportunities were endorsed at the Council.
This year’s discussions were challenging for all member states given scientific advice on quota, which included a recommendation of zero total allowable catch (TAC) for five key species for UK fishermen, and the full implementation of the landing obligation from 1 Jan 2019—a requirement to cut the wasteful discarding of fish.
The agreed deal ensures that there are now workable solutions to alleviate the risk of choke closing economically important mixed fisheries while also preventing fish from being wastefully discarded unnecessarily. The agreement also includes a commitment to review scientific data as the new regulation comes into effect.
Total fishing opportunities agreed for 2019 included increased quotas for:
West of Scotland monkfish (+25%)
Western hake (+28%)
Skates and rays in the English Channel (+10%)
Limits remained the same for other stocks including Celtic sea sole and pollack— and where the science showed it was necessary, quotas were reduced for certain stocks, including herring in the Celtic sea.
Increases in quota for hake, haddock and megrim will benefit the whole of the UK. Increased quota for monkfish will provide a boost for the Scottish fleet, while Northern Ireland has benefited from an increase in Irish sea cod. Agreements on sea bass will offer welcome support to the inshore fleet in Wales.
The primary focus for agriculture was a debate on the post-2020 CAP reform package, including three legislative proposals: the first on CAP strategic plans; the second on financing, management and monitoring of the CAP; and the third on common market organisation (CMO) of agricultural products. The Commission welcomed engagement from member states and outlined some of the areas to be considered, including the budget and the performance monitoring system. In the discussion that followed, member states stressed the importance of simplification and shared their views on convergence and the need for a transition period. Under the same item, Croatia also gave an update on its inter-parliamentary conference on the future of food and farming.
The Commission also informed Council about the new bio-economy strategy and mentioned initiatives by member states, such as the BIOEAST conference, which Hungary gave an update on under the same item. The UK intervened to welcome the aims of the new strategy and encourage co-operation between member states.
Six other items were discussed separately under “any other business”:
The Commission set out its proposal to amend the present CAP legislation for payments in 2019-20, with the UK intervening in support and to call for additional flexibility.
Italy gave an update on forest damage.
The Commission informed Council about actions taken following the 2017 Fipronil eggs contamination incident.
The presidency discussed the progress of legislative files, namely unfair trading practices, spirit drinks, and fertilisers.
Poland gave a presentation on the situation in the pigmeat market situation.
The presidency and Commission updated Council on the plant proteins conference held in Vienna in November.