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 twelve 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.
It is also important to remember that before the December Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting takes place, an agreement must be reached with Norway - not an EU member - on quota shares. This is because the main North Sea demersal and pelagic stocks are shared by Norway and the EU.