The EU Commission makes proposal for the level of TACs for stocks exclusive to the EU.
The countries concerned, including the EU, consult each other and determine the level of TACs for shared or straddling stocks (ie stocks that migrate from one area to another). For the important shared North Sea stocks of cod, haddock, saithe, whiting, plaice and herring the decision is made with Norway on an annual basis.
For some of the most important pelagic stocks of mackerel, blue whiting and atlanto-scandian herring, the decisions on total level of catch should be made between the coastal states in the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC), although this process has been very fraught and often failed in recent years.
Norway and the Russian Federation decide on the TAC of cod and haddock stocks in the Barents Sea.
The EU Council of Ministers, which meets each December, makes the final decision on the level of TAC for exclusive EU stocks.
In recent years, the politicians have been more inclined to follow scientific advice than in the past in order to protect their environmental and sustainability credentials.
The EU Fisheries Council establishes TACS at the end of December and distributes quota shares between the member states.
The allocation method is called ‘relative stability’ and was adopted in 1983. Under this system each member state has a percentage share of each stock based on a reference point (in most cases) from the 1970s.
The shares remain constant to provide economic stability. It does not however take account of changing situations of either the stocks in question or the different EU fleets.
Each member state has responsibility for allocating its quota between its national fleet.
The UK quota is allocated on the basis of Fixed Quota Allocation units (FQAs) associated with a vessel licence. The FQAs are based on historic fishing records.
The quota is allocated to:
- The ‘Sector’ – Producer Organisations (POs) (23 in the UK) based on the FQAs held by the vessel members (this holds by far the majority of the UK quota);
- The ‘Non-sector’ – vessels over ten metres in length not in membership of a PO; and
- Vessels of ten metres or under in length.
The UK quota is split between the devolved administrations according to the Concordat Agreement.
Since Brexit, the basis of setting quotas remains being based on advice on the state of the stocks provided by ICES. However, the process of agreeing and sharing quotas has become more complex. This is because the UK has become an independent coastal state. For a number of North Sea stocks (cod, haddock, saithe, whiting, plaice and herring) negotiation is a trilateral arrangement between the UK, EU and Norway. There are a number of stocks which the UK negotiates and agrees quotas on and shares with the EU; there are others which the UK seeks agreement on with Norway on the the basis of quota exchanges. There was no agreement in 2021 but a limited agreement for 2022.
See the 'Brexit Balance Sheet'.
For 2023, the UK has been allocated only 500 tonnes of cod in Norwegian waters and 5,200 tonnes in the waters around Svalbard. The UK has no fishing opportunities in NAFO (Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization) and has no quotas in Greenland.
Therefore the total available cod quota for 2023 is 5,950 tonnes, compared with a total of 19,500 tonnes in 2018.