There are a number of aspects of the political agreement reached in Brussels, and announced with great fanfare last week, that remain unclear on the details - so far no consolidated text has appeared. Nevertheless, we know enough to see that permissive powers for regional cooperation between member states, working closely with regional advisory councils, have been agreed, even if the route for implementing regional seas recommendations will tread familiar legislative paths.
Much will depend on the enthusiasm and skill with which member states and RACs approach regional management.
The early engagement by fisheries directors and the RACs in the regionalisation process are therefore positive signs. The NFFO has said for some time that the key to effective management decisions is getting fisheries managers, fisheries scientists and fisheries stakeholders into a room together, working collaboratively. The steps being taken in Copenhagen and Dublin represent in their different ways important aspects of the new approach.
The Dublin meeting, which will be attended by fisheries stakeholders, representatives from the member states and fisheries scientists, will hope to put in place the Irish Sea "Cod Audit", first called for by the industry in 2006.
The stock development of cod in the Irish Sea is apparently bucking the positive trends seen widely across the North East Atlantic and the priority must be to identify the reasons why. A review of the science and management measures is therefore the first step in putting things on the road to recovery. At present we don't know whether it is ecosystem changes, something in the fishery, or shortcomings with the assessment that lies at the heart of the problem. The Dublin meeting will hope to kick start the review process and is as significant in its own way as a stakeholder-led process, as the Copenhagen meeting is at government level.
Similar initiatives involving regional cooperation are already underway in the Baltic and it is clear that within the CFP a decisive step away from over-centralised, top-down, micro-management has been taken. The challenge now is to ensure that this momentum continues and that well thought-through regional management plans will soon emerge to replace the one-size-fits-all measures currently in place. Those in the centre - the Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament have a duty to nurture these young shoots, to ensure that regionalisation delivers its full potential.