EU Common Fisheries Policy Reform

QUESTION: Wasn’t the European Commission set to update the Common Fisheries Policy? Is it because of declining stocks? – Laura from Hamburg

ANSWER: Yes Laura, and they are in the midst of it, with adoption tentatively scheduled for 2013. The process is terribly convoluted and is a political minefield, so it is taking quite a while to finalise. And yes, the reasoning behind the Commission’s decision to reform the CFP is that independent studies have shown many species found in European waters are harvested at levels exceeding sustainable limits. The Commission states in their Green Paper on Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy the situation arises from five key structural failings:

  • a deep-rooted problem of fleet overcapacity;
  • imprecise policy objectives resulting in insufficient guidance for decisions and implementation;
  • a decision-making system that encourages a short-term focus;
  • a framework that does not give sufficient responsibility to the industry;
  • lack of political will to ensure compliance and poor compliance by the industry. [1]

As you will notice, these are big-ticket, engrained issues requiring much more than a tweak in existing Regulation. And in a way you have to feel for the Commission (probably the only time that has ever been stated in print) in that given the complexity and contentiousness of the issues, no one will really ever be 100% happy with the outcome. Commercial fishermen and the communities whose economies are based on catching and processing will always resent Brussels-based control of something which seems so very local in nature. Environmental NGOs would like to see fishing effort reduced to very low levels – something given the realities of EU policy-making will probably not occur.

While commercial fishing, in the grand scheme of things, is not a very large European industry it is by nature very regionalised, leading to a situation where commercial interests can strategically focus their influences. The political intrigue is magnified as the EU Parliament will now play a role in any final legislation owing to expanded powers under the Lisbon Treaty.

Additionally, there is a lot more to the CFP than just conservation of stocks. Market controls, external agreements and a few other choice items fall within its scope. Our (Deep Blue’s) pet peeve (not really a strong enough phrase) is the exploitation of foreign waters through international agreements, and the sometimes horrendous treatment of locally recruited crews aboard EU ships working these foreign waters. Awkward piecemeal conservation and enforcement efforts often result.  Huge EU ships move in and basically work unregulated. [2]

As you can see, the Reform is about much more than just quota setting. In the coming weeks we will be addressing CFP reform in-depth and even questioning Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s populist stance on discards. Is it a smokescreen?

[1] http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/reform/index_en.htm

[2] http://uk.ibtimes.com/articles/20110505/african-fishermen-stop-stealing-our-fish.htm

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