Ministers’ discard talks expected to be lengthy and difficult

On Tuesday 26 February, member states will finalise their position ahead of the negotiations with the European Parliament on fisheries reform. The most dividing outstanding issue is the discard ban.

More precisely, Council will agree on the issues that remain unresolved after the first part of the general approach agreed in June 2012. The main issues are the discard ban and compliance with environmental legislation.

On 6 February the European Parliament voted with a large majority in favour of a discard ban without exceptions introduced between 2014 and 2017.

Two sources with insight into the Council discussions confirmed that at least five member states at a Coreper meeting this week explicitly or implicitly referred to the European Parliament as having a better position on discards than the current Council text.

Postpone timetable
At the same time, around half of the member states want to postpone the introduction of the discard ban with at least one year compared to the current Council text, which envisages a step-by-step introduction between 2014 and 2019.

A Council source predicted a difficult negotiation in Council next week, given that member states have very different perspectives on the dates and flexibility of the discard ban. Fisheries ministers are famous for negotiating long into the night and the discard talks on Tuesday are not expected to be any exception from that rule.

Some member states perceive a greater difficulty in achieving a discard ban. “With an early deadline, these member states will request more flexibility to allow for a certain amount of discards. With a later deadline, they will accept less flexibility,” the Council source said.

Is it a ban if discards are allowed?
According to sources that have seen the provisional version of the general approach that will be the basis of the ministers’ discussion next week, the following provisions on the discard ban are currently on the table:

  • Exemptions allowing up to a total of 7% discards of the total annual catches (European Parliament: 0% exemptions).
  • Discard ban only covers catches subject to catch limits (European Parliament: All harvested species, including bycatch of non-targeted species).
  • Between 2015 and 2018, the discard ban would cover only “species defining the fisheries”, i.e. allowing the discarding of bycatch species.
  • Discards would be allowed for “species in respect of which fishing is prohibited”.

More information on what member states officials have said about the divisive issues can be found in a Council preparatory document.

Next steps
After the fisheries ministers reach a political agreement on the final parts of the basic regulation, the Irish presidency will receive a mandate to commence the negotiations with the European Parliament (called trialogues, as the Commission also participates at the talks). The Parliament’s delegation received their mandate to negotiate at the fisheries committee meeting this week.

The basic regulation, however, is only one of three files in the fisheries reform. Already next week trialogues will start on the Common Market Organisation. The third file, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, has not yet been voted by the Parliament.

More information
> Council background briefing
> Council preparatory document
> Council information on open debate with video link

Axel Naver

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