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cod quota and the amount of time fishermen can spend at sea to be based on solid scientific evidence rather than an out-of-date plan."
Conservative MEPs have also been in action negotiating reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. After four hours of voting on more than 3,000 amendments in the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament, the First Reading of the Bill to reform the CFP was approved. Senior Vice President of the Fisheries Committee, and the Conservative MEP representing Scotland, Struan Stevenson, said:
"This is the longest voting session I have ever participated in during 13 years as an MEP. … All in all this has been a satisfactory outcome to over four year's work in Parliament. We now await the outcome of the final vote on First Reading which is anticipated to be held in Strasbourg in February next year. With 13 votes in favour of the reform package, 10 votes against and 2 abstentions in committee today, the victory was a narrow one and there is still a lot of work to do to ensure we can deliver for Britain's fishermen."