Negotiations to finalise catching opportunities for 2016 get underway at the European Fisheries Council meeting in Brussels this Monday (14 December).

These talks have special significance for the Scottish fishing industry because the phased introduction of the Landing Obligation (discard ban) for demersal fishers commences on 1 January 2016, which will deliver a major sea-change in the way our fisheries are managed.

The discard ban (which is already operational in mackerel and herring fisheries) will also apply to some demersal catches from 1 January 2016, and then applied progressively until all quota species are covered by 1 January 2019. For white fish vessels in the North Sea, the new regime will apply to haddock and plaice, whilst North Sea prawn boats will have to land all their prawns and sole.  On the west coast, haddock and prawns will come under the umbrella of the scheme.

The main focus of next week’s Fisheries Council will be on setting quotas for 2016. Many have already been decided at the recent negotiations between the EU and Norway for shared stocks, resulting in increases for North Sea cod (+15%) and haddock (+30%) in line with the scientific advice.  An additional catch uplift of 17.3% was also agreed for haddock to enable the fleet to cope with the management of the discard ban. North Sea herring will increase by 16%.

However, as well as ‘rubber-stamping’ these quota decisions, the EU Fisheries Council will also set quotas for a range of other stocks not shared with external coastal states, including North Sea and West coast prawns, megrim, northern monkfish and West coast herring.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, said: “The good news for our fleet is that many of our key stocks are in a healthy state, which will result in increased quotas for next year.

“But against this background comes the considerable uncertainty over the management arrangements for the phased introduction of the discard ban for demersal fishers. This management is especially complicated because of the mixed fishery environment our fleet operates in.

“There is, for example, the question of what happens if the quota for one species becomes exhausted, and which potentially causes a choke that will lead to the cessation of all fishing.

“It is, therefore, essential that the management measures finally agreed upon are flexible enough to enable the fleet to cope with such impacts of the discard ban.”