Draft rules get mixed reception

Pech The PECH committee’s proposals have turned out to be controversial, with NGOs focusing on pulse trawling

The European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee last week approved draft rules aimed at reducing impacts on the environment that include restrictions on new fishing methods such as pulse trawling. The draft text was adopted by 20 votes to five, with two abstentions. The text will now be tabled to a plenary vote in order to get the mandate and start negotiations with the Council.

The official position is that the rules on prohibited fishing gears will become clearer, while providing a greater level of flexibility for EU fishermen. The draft also ushers in the first opportunities for rules to be adapted for specific sea areas, bringing in a level of regionalisation.

‘Regionalisation would allow moving away from micro-management and rigid technical rules towards a more flexible, results-based management approach and would bring local authorities other stakeholders closer to the decision making,’ observed rapporteur Gabriel Mato.

‘Our main objective is to give the chance to fishermen and to regional authorities to feel as the main actors in the management of resources, while ensuring that specific targets for progressive reduction of juvenile catches are set, based on science and adapted to the realities of each fishery. I believe this is a good compromise, ambitious but at the same time realistic and operational.’

MEPs want the STECF (Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries) to assess innovative fishing gear, including pulse trawling, with an assessment to be carried out over trial periods of at least four years. Trial use would be restricted to no more than 5% of existing vessels. Use of such gear would be permitted on a commercial scale only if the assessment shows that it would not lead to “direct or cumulative negative impacts” on the marine environment.

But not everyone is happy. Environmental groups had already issued their own condemnation of the Fisheries Committee’s conclusions within minutes, accusing it of opening the doors to unrestricted electrical fishing as well as making serious claims about the threats to marine mammals and seabirds by what these organisations see as a failure to act on the Fisheries Committee’s part.

According to Bloom, this now opens the way for the entire Dutch fleet to fit out with pulse fishing gear and Bloom scientific director Frédéric Le Manach comments that:"This is a scandal from an environmental and social point of view.

Client Earth stated that the proposed new rules are a “a huge blow to sustainable fishing in the EU, because of their total lack of concrete targets and legal deadlines,” and claim that members of the PECH committee have undermined EU environmental protection by voting against coherence with other environmental laws like the Birds and Habitats Directives, and international nature protection agreements.

“They also changed established sustainability rules without scientific justification, and introduced exceptions for the Mediterranean despite the fact that it is already heavily overfished,” ClientEarth lawyer Flaminia Tacconi.

“This is disastrous for industry, consumers and our seas, missing a major opportunity to create rules that would improve fisheries management and help reduce the impact of fishing on the marine environment in the EU. MEPs in the PECH Committee have shirked their responsibility to make fisheries sustainable.”

On the other side of the table, industry body Europêche has welcomed some of the Fisheries Committee’s conclusions, while being less satisfied with others.

“These results have been overshadowed by the decision taken by the Committee not to give mandate to the rapporteur, Gabriel Mato, to enter into negotiations with the Council until this report is voted in Plenary, possibly in February 2018. This decision will unnecessarily delay the legislative process and put at risk the difficult compromises achieved on very complex fishery issues,” a Europêche spokesman commented.

The environmental groups have been largely silent on the Fisheries Committee’s steps towards reducing red tape and to reduce catches of juvenile fish, which include outright bans on the use of explosives and toxic substances as well as a ban on high-grading as pat of measures to reduce discarding. Restrictions also include measures intended to protect mammals, seabirds, reptiles and sensitive habitats.

“We are convinced the EP has delivered an important contribution towards simplification and has managed to move away from prescriptive top-down measures which up until now were compiled in 30 different EU regulations,” said Javier Garat, President of Europêche, commenting that it has to be remembered that by 2020 all stocks must be exploited at MSY level by 202, by which time Brexit will have come into effect and all landings obligations will be fully in place.

“In the context of the landing obligation, fishermen are fully responsible for the catches taken and not for what they land; accordingly they should be allowed to decide the best selective measures. In this sense, the landing obligation in itself is the greatest incentive for improving selectivity. Fishermen can only be selective up to the point of possibility,” he said.
“For obvious economic reasons, fishermen do not want to catch high levels of undersized fish and are therefore as selective as possible. The levels of by-catch vary with season, areas and target species. Furthermore, Members States declared that there is still no reliable data on the level of discards in the different EU fisheries. Accordingly, fishermen should be free to choose the most appropriate gears to achieve greater selectivity so as to reduce as much as possible unwanted catches.”

According to the Fisheries Committee’s conclusions, regional measures that deviate from baselines would be introduced for the seven EU sea areas; North Sea, North Western Waters, South Western Waters, Baltic Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and waters fished by EU vessels in the Indian Ocean and West Atlantic.

These measures would cover inter alia minimum conservation reference sizes, and closed or restricted areas. Member states and the Commission would have 18 months from the entry into force of the regulation to regional rules on mesh sizes.

To grant enough flexibility to EU fishermen and support their work, it would be possible to deviate from these regional rules. This could be done either via a regional fisheries multiannual plan or “delegated acts” by the EU Commission. Member states could submit joint recommendations to this end, and MEPs ask them to “base their recommendations on the best available scientific advice.”

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