CFP reform – how’s about a new boat?

01 May 2009

Nathalie Charbonneau, spokeswoman for Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg. TW:EEC Photos

Nathalie Charbonneau, spokeswoman for Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, has spent her career in the Commission (EC). There are lots of complaints about the CFP she says, but the reform process, which went public with a Green Paper in April(1), is a chance for direct input from fishermen to change things.

Any EU citizen can put up ideas. For non-EU industry members, World Fishing is ready to receive ideas from readers and put them forward over the next 18 months before the policy is finalised for legal adoption in 2012 (write to the Editor at cwills@worldfishing.net).

I also asked Ms Charbonneau if a third country such as Senegal, Mauritania or Morocco, letting in EU vessels would find Brussels interested in paying for three or four decommissioned EU trawlers to take off potential discards from EU vessels. Those were fish they did not want and which would cost them too much in fuel to land, whereas a local co-op could sell them on the local market. The Japanese collect farmed tuna off Malta cages and vessels like this...

“I would encourage this type of idea to come up...and we are welcoming the most creative ideas in order for EU citizens to tell us how they see the CFP in the future and how we can improve more to have a global common fisheries policy that benefits everyone and everyone wants to buy into – the fishermen, the consumers, the local coastal communities could say: “Yes! That is something we could say yes to!” she said.

Competition

Of course the call for views will see considerable activity by stakeholders which include NGOs, the supermarket and processing sector, the marine leisure community and not just fishermen. Yet the fishing industry is best placed to come up with the new ideas which will meet the EC's overall strategy, but it will need to get thinking, planning and coordinating its action if it is to be at the heart of this change. Participation is not easy for the small vessel owner. The buzzwords are a future sustainable industry of people and fleet (with reduced numbers) and factories in Europe, and sustainable stocks and safe food for satisfied consumers from environmentally-friendly fishing and production methods. The 'regular' budget pot to achieve this between 2007 and 2013 is €3.8bn in the European Fisheries Fund.

The dilemma, pointed out by Ms Charbonneau, is that the EU now has to import 60 per cent of its fish. It is not the just Directorate-General (DG) Fisheries and Maritime Affairs in the gameplan here. WF had been invited to Brussels as part of a group of press through the European Journalism Centre to hear and grill officials and politicians on climate change and EuropeAid, the world's largest aid donor. We found that many of the directorates-general have an interest in what DG Fisheries does, from transport and port logistics through to consumer health and waste runoff into spawning grounds, mussel beds and sea farms.

Ms Charbonneau then pulled in Dr Barbara Helfferich, Environment spokeswoman, who said they talk constantly with fisheries colleagues on policy and research, not excluding Michael Mann, spokesman for Mariann Fischer Boel, Commissioner for Agriculture and Rural Development.

“We have put forward [legislative proposals] on sealing and that is going to the European Parliament [for approval],” Dr Helfferich said. “It is not a ban, as some people say, on hunting – it is a ban on products derived from animals which have been hunted and killed in an inhumane fashion. Unless we know [they were] killed in the least inhumane way possible, these products won't come in”.

The whaling ban continues, with the scientific exemption and she said they had publicly criticised Japan for “much too many species hunted. We have gone into the International Whaling Commission with a common EU position…underlined by the Council [of ministers] decision in March”.

With regards to aquaculture, appearances indicate that the thrust of recent EU research funding has been heavily in favour of farmed development rather than the on-sea sector.

On alien species, Dr Helfferich says, “They are coming in like crazy. We found there were 11,000 species that have come in. We have proposed a policy with an action plan as a first step to see what has to be done. Different Member States have different approaches and some have no approach at all. We want to see if there is an added value in having a European approach to it. Second, we need to establish some type of research facilities better to understand how many have come in, what are the reasons for them [getting] in. Most are imported voluntarily – deliberately – and some [ride in on] boats. We have done some calculations on the costs [of their impact] which are enormous.” Imported spawning stock are part of this issue.

Surprisingly, the issue of sea cage infections of wild stock is not in DG Environment's remit. There is also room for action by fishermen for greater cooperation on protecting the marine environment. “Seriously, we listen to the fishery workers. The legislation calls for good quality without giving specific standards and forces adjacent communities to work together - the least invasive type of legislation. In terms of waste releases we have very stringent parameters.” The Member States have to take action where waste was coming into fishing areas and “If they fail to do it, then we are taking them to court”.

Hard cash

A catch warning. There may be lots of money available for research projects contracted out by Brussels, but it can take great effort and much time to prepare project applications to respond to calls, and most fail. Second, major operations and academic institutions have full time units who do nothing but bid for EU money and projects often require three partners from different countries.

WF has met a number of analysts over the years who say that often it is better to beg borrow but not steal to fund your own ideas rather than to waste time trying to get EU funding. One expert said they get one of 10 contracts they bid for. One example from West Africa concerned a local machine which has something of the mussel-rope stripper concept behind it. Failed attempts to get EU funding were a blessing in disguise. The end product was based on a local design from the agricultural sector and it turned out to be far cheaper (built locally) and much better than anything that was available from so-called advanced Europe.

Sometimes the EU just misses the brilliant but simple ideas such as EU-funded workshops where local fishermen and engineers could experiment building and testing new equipment. The revolution in protecting sea birds from longline hooks is from a small gear idea.

One idea which is making headway through the research jungle in Brussels is designing a new vessel from the bottom up - by fishermen and for fishermen - to meet the demands of future fishing. By definition, there are no mass-produced vessels in shipyards – each is man-made, weld by weld, each slightly different to meet the owner's needs. So, the idea of a vessel which could store discards, perhaps in trailing tanks collectable by lighter vessels, with the high-value catch in the chill, is just one concept which could be developed.

Indeed, when I put this to Ms Charbonneau she said: “It is an excellent opportunity for me to tell you to input these creative new ideas – we want people to frame and shape the new CFP – that could be a fantastic idea. If you are able to find an industry able to build this type of innovative boat, then why not - more than welcome in the process of reshaping the CFP for 2012. We [must] frame this CFP policy all together – Member States, fishermen and their associations in order to respond to the future needs.”

Local quality

Perhaps this bottom-up approach can be supported by the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs). If there is to be more policy input or new catch and safety at sea gear, then it must in part come from those who spend their days on the sea from local economies. RACs would also be in a stronger position to bid for pots of money which could help local associations and small fleets develop new ideas.

Local stock management could be further developed in the CFP reform if the industry can increase the value of its own data. Charbonneau said if the new EU treaty came into force then there would be more chances of “co-decision” for people on the ground with the Commission and Parliament and which would work positively and this “is important for the welfare of our target groups”.

“Local management is one of the areas which the CFP reform is looking at very intensively. We want decision-making at the level closest possible to the people who are affected. We will take into account local people and how they succeed in managing their local stocks and individual quota stocks and we will take decisions at the closest level on the ground to manage this resource in the best and [most] effective way,” she added.

This brings us back to quality data and another debate inside the research institutions. I pointed out to her how one leading scientist told NorFishing in Trondheim that their data could be 50 per cent right and 50 per cent wrong.

There is still a feeling here that data has to come from scientists because “only they know” how to collect and process it. WF readers are aware of the deficiencies in the scientific data, the Commission has publicly acknowledged them but says it is getting better and Ms Charbonneau defends saying it is from “diversified” scientific sources and cannot be one hundred per cent accurate.

There is also concern in some quarters that too much time and money is spent on trying to reduce the catch and the fleet and on surveillance measures - to the point of these things being an “obsession”. Much better to put funding and research money into measures to improve targeting and efficiency.

The view, that effort should be focused on maximising opportunities to catch the right fish in the right place at the right time, would reduce discards. If waste is one third catch total, that would solve the stock debate.

It is not sure whether Mr Borg will get another term when this Commission's mandate ends in November. He will have to sit in his own waiting room to see whether he gets the call. That said, Ms Charbonneau is adamant about sorting out discards before November. She said EU vessels fishing in third country waters would also be banned from ditching unwanted fish and have to land it locally.

Another example of not enough focus on improvements is that there is no full mapping of EU waters. This should be a priority to reduce discards and damage, and work is going on - but not enough, quick enough. This is essential for tactical shoal spotting and to avoid loosing gear. There has to be a way for fishermen to be involved in that mapping process and earn from it, not just reliance on oceanographic vessels with laser-beam equipment.

The first step to become part of the reform process is some reading while trawling. A relevant analysis just out is 'Energy Saving in Fisheries'(2) (comments to the Editor please). Dip into some of the past fish research 'success stories'(3). The other is to understand how you can get your ideas into the fisheries Technology Platform (TP) which should allow the small voice to be heard - by EU law it has to include everyone and be transparent. If you have a great idea, look at the future-thinking process in different TP sectors(4) - it could pay off.

(1) http://ec.europa.eu/commission_barroso/borg/index_en.htm

(2) http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/publications/studies/energy_saving_en.pdf

(3) http://ec.europa.eu/research/index.cfm?pg=success

(4) http://cordis.europa.eu/technology-platforms/