Why CFP 2.0 needs devolution

13 Jan 2011
Consumers need to be reassured that buying wild-caught fish is not environmentally wrong. Credit: OsvaldoGago

Consumers need to be reassured that buying wild-caught fish is not environmentally wrong. Credit: OsvaldoGago

Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been widely criticised as being top down, over-centralised and having only at best a mixed performance in managing member states’ fisheries. Certainly it’s one of the longest-established and more controversial of the European Commission’s common policies, so with wholesale reform due for introduction in 2013, many interested parties see this as the ideal time to influence new policy decisions.

Under the current CFP, each EU member state is given an annual total allowable catch (TAC) that is distributed so that the country has 'relative stability' of fishing activities. More recent controls have involved limits on fishing efforts and technical conservation measures, such as selective fishing gear design and the use of real time closures.

But summing up stakeholders’ assessment of the regulatory regime, Sally Bailey, WWF-UK’s head of fisheries and seafood, confirmed there is broad recognition CFP has failed to deliver sustainable management and that there’s a real need for radical change across European fisheries.

“New management needs to cover several areas,” said Bailey, speaking at the recent ‘Westminster Food & Nutrition Forum Keynote Seminar: Fishing and the Marine Environment’, held in London. “We need to reduce discard levels. And we need full documentation and traceability from the place of capture on the boat right the way through the supply chain to where customers buy their fish, be that in retail or in the foodservice sector.

“It needs to be ecosystem-based, taking account of the impact of the fishery – not just the stock status, but the impacts that fishery may be having on other stocks.

“We also need to ensure there is actual reduction in overall capacity. We need to incorporate management tools, such as catch shares, and use those tools to reduce the capacity of the fleet in each fishery across the EU,” she said.

WWF has joined forces with various other groups and launched a WWF vision with AIPCE, Euro Commerce and Euro Coop in Brussels, Belgium, in April last year. Several major stakeholders have since joined the alliance, including Birds Eye Iglo, the Findus Group, the Icelandic Group, New England Seafood, Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.

“I think there’s very little difference between what stakeholders want. It’s actually how we get there that’s going to be the crucial part,” Bailey said. “Taken altogether, we propose a new management system which should deliver the desired goals of fisheries which are environmentally, economically and socially sustainable.”

Regionalised approach

Bertie Armstrong, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation said that matters environmental have become fundamental to the whole industry. Fishermen understand there won’t be a fishing industry if you fish down the seafood chain or strip away a natural resource, he said.

“Embedded in our psyche is to take proper account of the environmental effects of fishing,” said Armstrong. “It’s not inappropriate to catch cod and whiting alongside haddock, what is important is the proportions of those fish that you catch, and that you stop when you have caught your limits.

“The essence of sensible governance of the fishing industry will be those who have a stakeholding on the individual fisheries being involved in its management. We must devolve responsibility at the appropriate level.”

David Dawson, director marine and fisheries for the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), said the CFP had failed because it involves a lot of micromanagement, whereby a lot of decisions are taken in Brussels, far away from those people with a vested interest in fisheries.

“What we are trying to look at in the UK response on CFP reform is moving away from the centralised micromanagement to a more regionalised approach that enables those who are using the seas to feel involved in decision making.”

Mike Park, executive chairman of the Scottish White Fish Producers Association, also believes the best way to resolve the “dictatorial” and “prescriptive” approach of CFP is to incorporate fishermen into the system.

“Allow fishermen to take part, build policy from the bottom upwards, only then will you gain respect,” said Park, who added that many of the inefficiencies prevalent in the catching sector are driven by the current CFP.

“The CFP legitimises discards, it legitimises waste. In terms of corporate due diligence the industry cannot allow that to go on, so we have to try and change the way we manage fisheries, not only making people responsible for what they land to market, but for what they remove from the sea.”

Outcome management

Franz Lamplmair, advisor for fisheries policy for the EC’s Directorate General of the Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, confirmed his commissioner, Maria Damanaki, is very much committed to “root and branch” reform of the CFP.

“I think we need it. It clearly came out from the consultation process on the CFP Green Paper and the extensive round of discussions, seminars, hearings, debates at minister level, in European parliament, with regions and also with NGOs,” said Lamplmair.

“There are strong requests to go away from micromanagement and prescriptive management at highest political level and to move to ‘management by outcomes’. Several representatives of the industry say targets should be set at the political level, but that the technical details to reach these outcomes should be decided and implemented at local and regional levels.”

Lamplmair said by using this approach, member states could use a “toolbox” of EU-approved measures, including quota, gear and fishing effort restrictions, to bring about healthy fish stocks.

While there’s some way to go before the Commission finalises its new CFP, the European fishing industry could be forgiven for taking heart from the high level discussions focusing on moves away from Brussels’ current micromanagement of fisheries.

What’s clear is if the next CFP is to work and instil confidence throughout the entire seafood supply chain then much-improved scientific data must be produced and used purposefully. In addition, regulations must take social responsibility into account.

Last, but not least, it’s vital that once introduced these efforts are communicated to end-consumers, who, as a result of constant media misinformation, need to be reassured that buying wild-caught fish is certainly not environmentally wrong.

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