Every December, EU Fisheries Ministers gather around the table to set quotas for the catch that each country's vessels can take from Europe's waters. They are presented with the latest scientific evidence about stocks, often accompanied by warnings that current levels of fishing are not sustainable. They disregard this advice, and dig in for a 24-hour who-gets-what session of bargaining. The result is that the majority of Europe's fisheries are in a very fragile position indeed, well below their potential and often at risk of complete collapse.
Plans to reform the Common Fisheries Policy have been promised by Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki and will be published in May or June next year. By that time we will know whether she has both the ambition and strength to secure radical changes.
She has told MEPs that she will stick to the scientific advice in setting the TACs (total allowable catches) for next year. In a challenge to the ministers she has declared: "There will be no more bargaining."
This will be a battle to watch.
Her most pressing task is to stick up for fish and fishermen in the North East Atlantic by being tough on Iceland and the Faroe Islands. Without reference to the regulatory body, the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission, both have started to catch quantities of mackerel that are clearly unsustainable, with Iceland alone upping its quota from 15,000 to 130,000 tonnes.
A negotiated solution with the Faroe Islands may be possible, but Damanaki appears to have made no progress in resolving the conflict with Iceland. Within the next week or two she is expected to announce a range of sanctions that the EU will apply in response.
Iceland has commenced negotiations to join the EU, but at the same time has decided to pick a fight with the EU. In past battles with Britain it has done them no harm to get tough. I'm not sure if this conflict will give them such a happy outcome. Iceland's reputation for fishing in a sustainable manner is just the first casualty.