News: EU Sustainable Fishing Policy Continues to Evolve (new opinions and an explanation of key aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy)

On 29th May 2010 the EU Official Journal published the EU Committee of Regions’ issued opinion on the Green Paper — reform of the common fisheries policy and a sustainable future for aquaculture.  In this Opinion, the Committee:

—     agrees on the need to structure the decision-making process within the CFP, including delegating the regulation and/or management of some activity to the Member States, to the regions, and to the sector itself, within the framework of Community laws;

—     recommends closer examination of introducing transferable fishing rights with appropriate safeguards, while taking the view that individual administered quotas may constitute one line of approach, but individual transferable quotas on the other hand would jeopardise the balance in the sector;

—     agrees with establishing a differentiated fishing regime for small-scale fishing and shellfishing, maintaining

–          access to public finance for these activities and making it easier for decisions specific to this fleet to be taken at regional level; artisanal or small-scale coastal fisheries should not to be defined by vessel length but rather in line with other additional criteria;

—     recommends that for each fishing zone, the fisheries management system that best matches the zone in question, the target species and the type of fleet be evaluated and urges the further examination of catch-based quota management;

—     recommends regulation of access to public aid in the same way as under the Common Agricultural Policy, by introducing the concept of conditionality;

—     believes that the EU must facilitate the competitive development of the aquaculture sector, including a roadmap for 2010 identifying the limits by region, the promotion of ecological fish farming and support for the European Aquaculture Technology & Innovation Platform (EATIP) and highlights the importance of maritime spatial planning, animal health programmes, labelling standards and administrative

–          simplification procedures for the sector.In addition to sustainable forestry practices, this Opinion highlights the use of forest derived biomass for energy generation and puts forth a series of recommended action for the coming years in enacting sustainable forestry in the EU Member States.

Read the full opinion here in PDF format.

Read the full Green Paper here in PDF format.

Background and Explanatory Note, sourced from EU Parliament Session Document A7-0014/2010:

In the European Union, the fisheries sector, like agriculture, is regulated by a common policy. This has been the case since 1970, when the first joint measures relating to equal access to the waters of the various Member States began to be implemented.

In 1976 the structural policy which had in the meantime been taking shape in Europe through a range of measures aimed at establishing a common market in fisheries products, became more clearly defined.

However, it was in 1983 that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was officially established following a complex and lengthy negotiation process.

Two decades later, in 2002, the CFP underwent a far-reaching reform, aimed at creating the conditions for a proper balance between environmental and biological conservation and economic and social sustainability in the sector.

Six structural constraints were already identified at that stage:

1.   Overcapacity of the Community fleet, in terms of available resources;

2.   Lack of precise policy objectives and, consequently, of clear guidelines for decisions and implementation;

3.   A decision-making process that encourages a short-term focus (which severely penalises sustainable development of fishing activities);

4.   No power or flexibility for self-regulation of the sector;

5.   Loss of economic profitability in the sector, with alarming disparities in the distribution of income;

6.   Lack of supervisory powers of the competent bodies (high rate of infringements).

To tackle these and other problems, joint measures were introduced. Though based on good intentions, they ultimately failed to produce the desired affect. The problems identified in 2002 still exist in 2009 and have even worsened as a result of recent developments relating to the energy crisis and the possible impact of climate change on fish sources.

Moreover, given the world economic crisis and the alarming situation facing the fisheries sector throughout the EU, a change is needed as a matter of urgency in the CFP’s current set-up. Fishing is extremely important to the EU. This should not be viewed in terms solely of the limited contribution of fisheries to Member States’ GDPs, but also of the sector’s role as a source of (direct and indirect) employment in regions in which economic and social alternatives are scarce.

The implication is that the new reformed CFP has to be based on rational, responsible management of resources seeking to conserve fish stocks and preserve the way of life of those who have traditionally depended on the sea. The aim, in short, is a policy making for a fair and reasonable fish stock regime and geared to the specific needs of fishing regions while also protecting the overriding interests of fishing operators.

The fisheries sector, like all others, will have to be managed in accordance with the principle of equal treatment and free competition among operators.

The reformed CFP should be capable of increasing productivity, stabilising the markets ensuring a decent standard of living for those who earn their livelihood from fishing, and guaranteeing security of supply at reasonable prices for consumers.

The problems with which fisheries today have to contend cannot be viewed or resolved in a partisan or piecemeal way. On the contrary, they demand a cross-cutting integrated approach encompassing all factors which, directly or indirectly, affect the sector and the oceans and their complex interactions.

Just as we had to do when we discussed the maritime policy Green Paper, we must, in this debate on the Green Paper on Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, move beyond the entire pigeon-holed perspective and put all of the problems into the wider context in which they arise, exist, and have to be resolved. Only in that way will we be able to erase the present fishing pattern in which four distinguishing features stand out: overfishing, overcapacity, overinvestment, and waste.

The rapporteur’s view

The rapporteur considers that, broadly speaking, the reform of the CFP will need to be based on three core principles (a threefold operating imperative):

– protection and conservation of fish stocks (environmental dimension);

– a decent livelihood for fishing operators (social dimension);

– economic profitability of fisheries (economic dimension).

These principles cannot be ranked in order of importance, but must fully converge to achieve a state of dynamic equilibrium, outside of which the fisheries sector cannot be made sustainable and will not be able to develop.

To translate these principles into practice, the rapporteur believes that

– management must be expressly decentralised,

– taking into account the specific features of regions and fisheries and involving all operators in the sector

– so as to create the conditions required for an effective policy of compliance and greater responsibility,

– without which it will be impossible to place stocks on a sustainable footing.

To sum up, this will provide the framework for fishing less and earning more!

Protection and management of resources

The recovery of stocks and their sustainable management must remain a priority for the Common Fisheries Policy, implying a need to consider and determine the most appropriate ways of proceeding. To date TACs and quotas have been the main management tool, but have not invariably proved best suited to that purpose.

The point therefore needs to be discussed thoroughly and in depth, focusing on alternative ways of ensuring that Community fish stocks can attain levels enabling maximum sustainable yield to be achieved by 2015 – in keeping with the EU’s pledge at the 2002 Johannesburg Summit.

Some alternatives have already been discussed, for example the establishment of transferable fishing rights or management of catches by a step-by-step procedure, making use of fishing effort management. Searching assessment is needed, however, to gauge the legal implications that one or more changes at this level might have for the current configuration of the sector.

A decent livelihood for fishing operators

Fishing provides a livelihood for countless coastal communities who, down through the generations, have always devoted themselves to this occupation; to that extent it also contributes to the EU’s cultural heritage.

Fishing is a source of good food; it promotes employment and social cohesion in the EU’s outermost and coastal regions, where in some cases, as regards the latter regions, it plays a key role in the local economy.

That being the case, up-to-date information should be obtained in order to identify the communities most dependent on fishing and assess the changes that they have undergone in the past decade; the object is to enable action to be taken as and where required in the light of the findings.

The reformed CFP must lay down a strategy providing financial support to fishing operators who, because fishing capacity has to be adjusted according to the availability of stocks, might lose their job and/or income; proper training for fishermen should be promoted forthwith in order to give them entrepreneurial, maritime, and environmental expertise, and an understanding of good hygiene practice and hence widen their range of opportunities in terms of occupational mobility.

Economic profitability of fisheries

Fishing operators will not be able to earn a decent livelihood unless the economic profitability of fisheries is real and starts with producers. It is therefore essential to create conditions making for higher first-sale prices of catches, reducing the number of middlemen in the chain stretching from producers to consumers and encouraging producers to become involved in the marketing of products, with the aim of making the catching sub-sector as profitable as possible.

Furthermore, if producers’ organisations were to participate more actively in the management of fisheries in Community waters, this would help greatly to safeguard the regional interests of European fisheries.

To publicise European products more widely, schemes need to be devised for promoting Community fishery products, within and outside the EU, by organising transnational campaigns supported under financial instruments, following the practice already employed for certain agricultural products. To that end, the Commission needs to pursue a specific eco-labelling programme for fishery products.

Alongside these implementing measures, an effective policy of supervision needs to be enforced, and tightened up as regards third country fishery products offered for sale on the Community market, the object being to eliminate unfair competition and its inevitable adverse effects on the Community fishing economy.

Other points

In addition to the above points, the rapporteur considers that management of the sector should move towards decentralisation and regionalisation of its dynamics as a whole.

In this new context, the Community legislature must continue to chart the aims, principles, and general guidelines for the CFP, together with the key elements of legislation on the management of the sector, but decision-making power must be decentralised as far as technical and implementing measures are concerned, and delegated to the Commission, the Member States, the regions, or the sector itself, as the case may be, having regard to the principles and objectives laid down in advance.

The rapporteur also believes that a more strongly regionalised approach should be brought to bear on the problems affecting Community fisheries and that the Regional Advisory Councils and the Community Fisheries Control Agency should play a more active role in the reform and day-to-day management of the CFP.

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