Commission Staff Working Document - Explanatory note
Emergency measures for sea bass

Brussels, 26.1.2015 - SWD(2015) 7 final

Download from the EU server here (Word doc 16 pages),

(a pdf version is on the EAA server here).

or from the Austrian parliament server here (a pdf file, which includes two additional pages: A cover note and a front-page)

The document is 16 pages long. Here is a cutting from the two first pages (the chapter A):

A. Procedure for emergency measures and consultation process

(1) The need to address urgently the imminent decline of the stock of sea bass was raised by the Commission and by Member States during a series of discussions in the autumn of 2014.

(2) By letter dated 19 December 2014 the United Kingdom (UK) requested the Commission to take action under Art. 12 of Regulation (EC) No. 1380/2013, with a view to closing ICES area VIIe (Western Channel) to pelagic fisheries targeting bass during January to April 2015 in order to reduce fishing pressure by protecting the spawning aggregations of sea bass. The UK justified its request on the basis of the scientific advices by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) on European sea bass from June 2014 and the 46TH Plenary Meeting Report of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries from July 2014 and the accompanying technical paper. In line with the procedure outlined in Art. 12 of Regulation (EC) No. 1380/2013, the UK has copied its request to France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Ireland as well as to the North Western Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC).

(3) On 19 December 2014 the Commission informed all Member States as well as the NWWAC and the North Sea Advisory Council (NSAC) of the UK request. The Member States involved in the bass fishery were invited to submit their comments within the deadlines stated in Article 12.

(4) Belgium replied by letter of 19 December 2014 accepting the urgency measures proposed by the UK to protect the sea bass in ICES area VIIe, by a closure of that area for the pelagic fishery targeting sea bass during the spawning period January to April 2015.

(5) France replied by letter dated 29 December 2014, thus within the deadline for comments which ended for France on 31 December 2014. France objects to the requested measures by contesting that Article 12 is the appropriate legal basis, by contesting the urgency of measures and the effectiveness of the measures requested, by contesting the procedure used and by raising concerns about alleged discrimination. France has also made a counter proposal for measures to be agreed between Member States and put in place nationally while avoiding any emergency measures. This counter proposal includes decreasing fishing effort for pelagic trawlers, increasing the minimum size for sea bass caught by commercial vessels, prohibiting targeted fishing for seabass in area VIIa,g,j, monthly catch limits for vessels using hooks, lines and other gear types and a bag limit for recreational fishermen.

(6) The Netherlands replied by e-mail of 9 January 2015 with an agreement on emergency measures, but asking for a wider coverage to include area VIId,e,f,h, a monthly landing limit for all commercial fisheries, increasing the minimum size as well as a bag limit for recreational fishermen.

(7) By e-mail of 24 December 2014, the Chairman of the North-Western Waters Advisory Council (NWWAC) recognised the state of sea bass clearly as a matter of concern, but expressed doubts about the urgency of measures and the seriousness of the threat to conservation. The Chairman also expressed doubts as to whether the requested measures, being limited to one metier in one area, would be equitable and asked for more time, until the end of January, to give the NWWAC time to formulate its comments, while recognizing the proximity of the spawning season.

(8) The procedural arguments made by France and the NWWAC, i.e. that the time allowed for comments under Article 12 was not sufficient, cannot be accepted. Firstly, the seven-working-day deadline for comments in Article 12 is conditioned by a similarly tight deadline for the Commission to take a decision on emergency measures; it was clearly the will of the co-legislator, including the Council, to set such tight deadlines in view of the urgency that is required. Secondly, these deadlines follow naturally from the fact that Article 12 is limited to the need for immediate action (“duly justified imperative grounds of urgency”). It is logical that where the material requirement is so strict, the procedural requirements need to be tight too, in order to allow for immediate action. Thirdly, the Commission had already previously and comprehensively consulted both France and the NWWAC, as well as all other Member States concerned, on the current situation of the sea bass stock and on all the scientific evidence available now. Intense discussions were held since September 2014, during the preparation of the Council on 15-16 December and during the Council itself. All parties have therefore been fully familiar with the facts and evidence. In particular, the Commission formally invited the NWWAC already on 1 August 2014 to give its opinion, within three months, on management options for the sea bass stock. Five months later, it is unclear why the Advisory Council would need yet another month to deliver an opinion. Under those conditions, and in view of the recognized urgency, there is no basis for not applying the legal deadlines.

(9) During this procedure, the Commission has also received over 100 spontaneous submissions from citizens (recreational and professional fishers) active in fishing sea bass, who almost unanimously and some with detailed reasons asked the Commission to take emergency measures to protect the sea bass stock. In their submissions citizens and professionals expressly criticize the fishing on spawning aggregations and identified it as damaging in the current circumstances. They expressly ask that the Commission takes measures that ensure that large shoals of breeding fish are left alone so that they can replenish the stock of sea bass. The association of French line fishermen moreover stated that line fishermen have lost 50% of their income from the sea bass fishery due to a lack of measures to protect sea bass.

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