Most stocks exploited by Scottish fishermen are managed under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) by the European Commission. An important part of the management procedure is the use of Total Allowable Catches (TACs). These are intended to allocate fish resources to different member states and to control the amount of fish removed each year.
Most TACs are set on an annual basis and are the result of a cycle of events ending in the December Council of Fisheries Ministers, which decides on the final TACs for the following year. Fixing the level of fish quotas that can be caught by EU member states is a complex process and EU fisheries ministers have the final say on the quotas to be allocated for the next 12-month period. Sometimes scientific advice on how much of a certain species should be caught is followed to the letter, but it is not unusual for ministers to agree on levels which are very different from the European Commission's initial proposals.
Different quotas are applied to different areas for different species, the so-called TAC areas. For example, the TAC area for North Sea whiting comprises International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) divisions IVa,b,c and VIId.
Before the December Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting is held, several rounds of negotiations with non-EU countries must also take place in relation to fish stocks that straddle such international boundaries and are therefore jointly-managed. These negotiations set the TACs and quota for such stocks for subsequent consideration at December Council, and in many cases also establish arrangements allowing mutual access to fish in each other's territorial waters. These external negotiations include:
- EU/Norway (complex talks which deal with key North Sea stocks such as Cod, Haddock, Whiting, Saithe and Plaice and quota swaps between the parties [the so-called ‘balance’])
- Coastal States (a suite of talks involving the EU, Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia, and dealing with Mackerel, Atlanto-Scandian herring and Blue whiting)
- EU/Faroes (a bilateral agreement providing Scottish fishing vessels with access to predominantly whitefish opportunities in Faroese waters)