After intense negotiations, EU fisheries ministers reached agreement in the early hours of Wednesday morning on the 2019 catch limits for the main commercial fish stocks in the Atlantic and North Sea.
Next year the number of fish stocks managed at maximum sustainable yield (MSY) levels will rise to 59, and there will be additional protection for the European eel. At the same time EU fishermen in the Atlantic and the North Sea will be able to increase their catches of a number of healthy stocks.
The Council says the agreement is based on a strong commitment to the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP): environmental, economic and social sustainability.
"As of 1 January 2019 we finally say goodbye to the wasteful practice of discarding fish," said Austrian minister Elisabeth Koestinger, for the EU presidency: "This is a milestone for the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, but also a challenge for our fishermen in basins like the Atlantic and North Sea."
The Council decided to increase catches for a number of stocks, including plaice in Skagerrak/Kattegat, the Southern hake stock, Western and Southern horse mackerel, cod, sole and plaice in the Irish Sea, and sole and megrim in the Bay of Biscay. Decreases were also agreed for some stocks.
The issue of choke species in mixed fisheries, i.e. species with a low quota that can cause a vessel to stop fishing even if it still has quota for other species, was addressed through enhanced inter-area and inter-species flexibility. Moreover a new quota exchange mechanism was created for member states without a quota for by-catches in five fisheries: cod in the Celtic sea and west of Scotland, whiting in the Irish sea and west of Scotland, and plaice in the south-western part of area 7.
The Council decided to further protect European eel by extending the mandatory closures agreed for 2018 to recreational fisheries and glass eel fisheries. These measures will cover brackish waters such as estuaries, coastal lagoons and transitional waters, and will ensure consistency with the measures on eel in the Mediterranean Sea.
Finally concerning northern seabass, commercial fisheries will remain prohibited with some exceptions, taking into account the positive developments reflected in the scientific advice. It was decided that allowed catches would increase to 5.5 tonnes/vessel for hooks and line fishery, to 400kg for two months for trawlers, to 210 kg for seines, and 1.4 tonne per year for fixed gillnets.
For recreational fisheries the "bag limit" stays at 1 fish per day but for 7 months.