Questions still remain unanswered over the revised Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
Some will undoubtedly consider it a political masterpiece pulling on the heartstrings of millions of people across Europe who are paying more interest than ever to where their food comes from, how it is handled and how it is produced. But what about the fishermen who have been tasked with implementing the new policy? Should they simply keep quiet and accept the new rules and regulations and push for a more sustainable industry or continue to question its ‘draconian’ and bureaucratic approach to fisheries management?
Last month Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) delayed enforcement of sanctions on fishermen who fail to comply with the new CFP discard ban, a central focus of the policy. MEPs have restricted the obligation to keep a fishing logbook listing all quantities of each species caught and kept onboard to catches above 50kg of live-weight equivalent.
They also deleted a requirement to separate out undersized catches in different boxes. Other changes to the original Commission proposal include introducing a mechanism to prevent the development of a parallel market for non-marketable catches. A discard ban is already in force for pelagic species and a ban will start for demersal species next year.
While stakeholders in the fishing industry around Europe do not question the need to protect stocks and reduce discards, they continue to address the issue of how easy the new CFP will be to implement in seas around Europe, especially for those within the fishing communities with limited budgets to invest back into the industry.
This is a big issue for Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF). He tells WF&A that while the new CFP is still ‘finding its feet’ some of the main areas of revision such as Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and the much talked about discards ban are ‘distorted’.
“The Centrefold of the CFP, while it will be seen as a success by Europe and the Members of Parliament associated with it, is still draconian in its approach and inflexible in parts. Fishermen see it as a rod to prod them with. Some of the aims, rules and regulations will be very difficult to implement, meaning people will question why fishermen around Europe haven’t achieved what is set down in law. How can we when the law is so inflexible?
“It is wrong to single out small fishing. While they definitely need more support, suggesting that small-scale fishing is more sustainable is wrong - you can’t feed the world with a garden full of allotments,” he adds.
He continues: “The approach to discards is wrong-headed in my opinion. We support the protection of fishing zones etc and fishermen have already gone some way in addressing the discards issue by addressing net sizes. But as long as they aren’t breaking the rules and catching more than they are allowed, if fish comes aboard that is broken or oversized the best place for it is to put in back into the system and that means in the sea and not discarded onto the jetty back at shore. As soon as Europe recognises that the crystal path of sustainable fisheries is proper fishing mortality, the better.”
Also, writing in one of Scotland’s daily newspapers, The Scotsman, last month, Mr Armstrong says: “For the last 10 years or more, the crucial measurements affecting fish stock health - ‘fishing mortality’ or the amount of fish removed from the sea - have been moving consistently in the right direction, as have the corresponding graphs of biomass or catchable fish in the sea. This all means that we should be able, theoretically, to look forward to a future in which the stocks continue to thrive and the fleet can sustainably catch more. Paradoxically, however, this is not the case because of the challenges the unwieldy new CFP still presents.”
Recently Malta welcomed the European Commissioner, Karmenu Vella and publicly reaffirmed its commitment to the CFP. Mr Vella said that before the revision of the CFP, around 1.7 million tonnes of unwanted fish were being discarded despite the EU’s 60% reliance on imports.
He said the EU had also made significant progress with Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing (IUU). “There are still, however, four areas that need to be addressed which include vessels used, the flag used by the vessels, the areas where fishing is taking place and the ports where illegally caught fish are landed,” he said.
Campaign groups from around the world are also paying more attention to the fishing sector than ever before. Geenpeace recently launched legal action against the UK government in the High Court accusing it of violating European fishing law set out in the CFP by not publicly publishing new criteria for how it distributes its fishing quota. Greenpeace says it is ‘unlawful’ and the industry in the UK was ‘crumbling’ because it was not prioritising small-scale fishermen. According to Greenpeace, fishermen operating vessels under 10m long are only allocated 4% of the UK’s fishing quota and 6% of the English quota, while the five largest foreign vessels fishing in English waters have 32%.
Spain has said recently that the main challenge for its fishing fleet is to adapt to the landing obligation introduced by the new CFP, according to the Spanish confederation of fishing companies Cepesca. Spain has been awarded the largest share, approximately 20% of the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for 2014-2020. Spain will receive €1.16bn from the fund over the next six years, €30 million more than the 2007-2013 fund.
“We need to re-organise the way we work, and improve marketing efforts to adapt supply and demand while keeping companies profitable and our activity sustainable,” says Cepesca’s secretary general, Javier Garat.