Can politics win over reality?

08 May 2014
Some progress has already been made under the new CFP. Credit: Feliciano Guimarães/CC BY 2.0

Some progress has already been made under the new CFP. Credit: Feliciano Guimarães/CC BY 2.0

As the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) becomes law, Adrian Tatum considers the key changes and looks at what else needs to be done.

It is one of the most talked about European policies. And when the EU voted to reform it once again in February 2013, after three years of negotiations, the news was met with a collective withdrawing of breath around Europe both from within the industry and outside. Haven’t we been here before? Is it really necessary? 

The CFP reform package, including measures to halt overfishing and a ban on discarding fish at sea, to allow for more sustainable fishing will see fishermen having to adhere to a maximum sustainable yield (MSY) - catching no more than a given stock can reproduce in a given year. The aim is to restore and maintain fish stocks above levels that can produce the MSY.

To end discards, fishing vessels will have to land at least 95% of all catches in accordance with a schedule of specific dates for different fisheries, starting gradually from 2015. The European Parliament has fought and managed to keep this figure as high as possible, just short of a total ban. Landed catches of fish that are undersized, for example, would be restricted to uses other than human consumption.

The reform goes further. The sustainability principle will henceforth apply to EU vessels fishing outside EU waters, so EU fishermen will be able to take only surplus fish from third countries’ territorial waters. Furthermore, member states with oversized fleets may be penalised by withholding EU fisheries fund subsidies. In addition, new marketing rules will ensure that consumers are better informed about the fish they buy by requiring that labels give more details of the catch area or the type of gear used.

'Flawed'
But barely had the ink dried on the new CFP, there were already critics circulating, some calling the new CFP as ‘fundamentally flawed’.

One fishing fleet representative, who did not want to be named said: “All the main themes in this reform make sense there is no doubt about that. As an industry we have to continue to develop and show our customers and future customers at a time when they are demanding more and more information about where their food comes from, that we are being more sustainable and investing in the future of fisheries but little or no thought had been given to how we actually implement these reforms on the ground. Even in large fleet operators, levels of investment can be restricted and resources tight as the balance between investment in the company and efficiency levels are sought. With this in mind implementation of all these changes will be challenging.”

Speaking in December, after agreements were finalised, Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fisheries Federation said: “This all sounds like common sense, with much to celebrate. Nobody contests these general core objectives. But unfortunately, the reformed CFP has failed to completely to demonstrate any understanding of the difference between political aspirations and sensible regulation.”

And that gap-between political aspirations and the reality of what goes on within the market will always be the biggest challenge in making this latest CFP a success.

There is already some progress. Discards is one where levels across Europe are already falling. Fleets is another. The European Commission’s annual report on the European fishing fleet shows some progress towards achieving a balance between capacity and available fishing opportunities. However more remains to be done to ensure that stocks are managed in accordance with the objective of MSY and the Commission considers that there is still a need for active fleet capacity adjustment measures by Member States in order to achieve this.

Fishing capacity
At the end of 2012, the EU fleet consisted of 76,023 vessels. The number of vessels has been reduced by 1.6% while the tonnage and engine power decreased by 2% and 1% respectively in comparison with 2011.

In 2012 decommissioning with public aid was the most used management tool to reduce fishing capacity. From 1 January 2007 until 31 July 2012, €464m of European Fisheries Fund payments were allocated, equating to almost 3,700 vessels ceasing fishing.

Excessive fishing power is a major driver for overfishing. The reform obliges Member States to adjust the fishing capacity of their fleets to their fishing opportunities over time.

From now on, Member States will have to include in their reports an action plan for the fleet segments with identified structural imbalance. The action plans will result in more transparency and monitoring on the Member States’ targets, actions, and timelines to remedy these imbalances. Under the new CFP a proven lack of commitment from Member States to achieving a balance between fleet capacity and fishing opportunities may lead to the suspension or interruption of funding under the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.  

Current entries in the EU Fleet Register indicate that all Member States have complied with the levels of fishing capacity in tonnage and power. Overall the fishing capacity of the EU fleet was 16.4% below the capacity ceilings for tonnage and 10.4% below the power ceilings. 

Issues such as regional control will also be more challenging. “Greater regional control is something that the fishing industry has been pressing for over many years because the centralised micro-management from Brussels was at the heart of the failure of the previous CFP. But whilst the principle of regional control has been agreed, ‘exclusive competence’ - in other words control in Brussels - remains enshrined in the Treaties. Without a highly unlikely change in these Treaties, regional control will be restricted to advice-giving, and never decision-making, which takes us back to right where we are now. While we will do everything in our power to make this work, there are real fears in the fishing industry that the controlling hand of Brussels will still have a big say in the way that our fisheries are managed,” adds Mr Armstrong.

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