After the conclusion of the December fisheries council, the BBC website this afternoon proclaims: "Skippers cheer fish catch deal". This, I suspect is the cheer of condemned men who, having been told they were going to be boiled in oil are crying with relief when they find that they are only going to be boiled in water.
At first sight, however, the news does look encouraging for, as reported yesterday on this Blog, the EU commission plan to close fishing grounds in the North Sea next year has been abandoned and we now hear that a second proposal, to reduce days at sea, has also been largely given up. Scottish fishermen will be able to keep their allocation 15 a month, provided they use 120mm mesh, to reduce the by-catch of juvenile fish.
This is going part of the way towards sensible management, but it is actually the wrong approach. Proven techniques are available which enable haddock to be extracted from a mixed fishery without touching the cod – using what is known as selective gear, but once again the commission has neglected this valuable conservation measure.
Furthermore, many fishermen last year were finding that the days allocation was insufficient to catch their quota allocation and, with larger mesh sizes, longer or more hauls are needed to pull out the fish.
And even then, the days at sea allocation is not without a catch – to coin a phrase. According to the fisheries commissioner Joe Borg at the end-of-council press conference, the full allowance is contingent on the UK adopting additional enforcement measures, including a commitment to an automatic institution of administrative sanctions for infringement of regulations.
This is the equivalent of "on-the-spot" fines, and is going to give already unpopular fisheries inspectors a great deal more power, in circumstances that are inevitably going to lead to considerable injustice.
Moreover, although there are some local quota increases, quota levels overall are 15 percent down, which means that fishing opportunities throughout the waters of EU member states have been cut significantly.
While awaiting the detail – which will not be forthcoming until mid-January - perhaps the only comfort to take from the situation as we know it is the squawking of the environmental groups, which are upset that the commission has not gone ahead with fisheries closures.
Helen Davies fishing policy manager for the World Wildlife Fund, for instance, says she was "shocked" that proposals to close fishing areas had been shelved, adding: "The fishermen might be celebrating now, but we don't think these measures will help the industry at all."
Since the greenies idea of saving the fishing industry is to close down the fishing industry, that she is so "shocked" is not exactly going to cause anyone to lose any sleep.