EC suggests fishing opportunities

26 May 2011

The European Commission has published its report on progress achieved in the Common Fisheries Policy over the last few years and its suggestions for fishing opportunities in EU waters in 2012.

The document sets out how the Commission intends to act on the scientific advice it receives about the state of fish stocks when proposing catch limits and quotas for next year. The latest figures show that the state of fish stocks in European waters is slowly improving, but sufficient scientific data is still missing for the majority of the stocks, mainly due to inadequate reporting by Member States. The Commission will therefore be using a new method for setting fishing limits, notably cutting levels where insufficient data exist. The Commission's ideas will now be the object of a wide consultation over the summer and input will feed into its proposals for fishing opportunities for next year which will be adopted in the autumn.

Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki emphasizsed that she intends to introduce a new, precautionary approach when proposing fishing possibilities: for fish stocks where scientific evidence exists, the Commission's proposals will follow this closely. When insufficient scientific data is available, the Commission will propose to systematically reduce catches. This approach would phase out overfishing and encourage better data collection and reporting by Member States.

This way of fishing, based on "Maximum Sustainable Yield", will bring significant benefits and will mean a change from fishing intensively on scarce resources to fishing lightly on larger stocks. The same or larger quantities will be caught, but with lower impact on the environment and less discards. This means less damage to sea bottoms, less by-catches of vulnerable organisms, such as porpoises, dolphins and other marine mammals and less fuel used – because it takes less fishing time to catch a tonne of fish from an abundant stock than from a scarce one; this will in turn contribute to reducing carbon emissions and the fuel expenditure of fishing vessels.

New form of scientific advice

In 2010 the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which provides scientific advice to the Commission, developed a new form of advice concerning TAC levels which will lead to fishing based on Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2015. The Commission welcomes this new advice and intends to base its TAC proposals on it where adequate data exist.

However, an important obstacle in deciding the fishing opportunities in 2012 is precisely that scientific advice is missing for about two-thirds of the TACs. In most cases this is because of missing information on catches, incomplete surveys or poor sampling. Providing scientific data on fisheries is a responsibility of Member States, and these responsibilities in some cases are not met fully. Therefore, in cases where scientific advice is unavailable, a reduction in the TAC and/or in the fishing effort levels should be proposed.

In addition, Member States should devote sufficient resources and urgently deliver the necessary information to allow the state of the stocks to be estimated. And scientific agencies will be tasked with supporting the resolution of these problems as a matter of urgency, bearing in mind that the knowledge base must be provided by the Member States. Finally, indicators from commercial fisheries and from the scientific surveys should be developed to provide some robust rules to guide fisheries towards sustainable exploitation of resources even in data-poor situations.

European citizens, the European Parliament, Member States, Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) and the Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture (ACFA) are now invited to comment on and discuss the working method set out in the Communication through the Commission's website. The consultation is open until 1 September 2011. The plans will equally be discussed with ministers at the 28 June Fisheries Council.

Mailbox for citizens' contributions: MARE-fishing-opportunities2012@ec.europa.eu.

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