EU Parliament and Member State Fishing Opportunities

QUESTION: Did I read that under new reforms, the EU is considering changing the way they set fishing quotas? – Devin, Plymouth, UK

ANSWER: There is an interesting situation developing in Brussels/Strasbourg concerning the EU Parliament’s role in regulating Member State fishing opportunities. It comes in the wake of a recent mid-December vote of the Parliamentary Fisheries Committee (PECH), where a number of amendments were suggested to the legislation currently seeking to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Included in the lengthy list of possible changes/additions (they still must be voted on in plenary – full Parliament) are provisions for multi-year fishery management plans as a Parliamentary function.

As it stands now, Parliament holds powers to approve Commission proposals regarding the technical systemic legislation pertaining to fisheries management, but the actual fishing opportunities – quotas – are ultimately decided by the Council (representatives from Member State governments). The official decision flow is supposed to stem from scientific studies provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), with the data then analysed by the Commission and packaged into recommendations for ultimate Council approval. In reality, decisions are made at end-of-the-year Council meetings where Ministers and lobbyists are crammed into a room, horse trading until some sort of agreement is reached. Suffice it to say the original ICES studies nor the Commission recommendations hold the weight of Canon.

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, Parliament has seen its powers increased. Pre-Lisbon, many felt a democratic deficit existed in EU governance/legislation making, with too many rules and regulations springing from cloistered Commission comitology committees, and back room processes such as the aforementioned quota sessions. Now Parliament – directly elected representatives – will have say on many more policy areas. But they still are not tasked with setting quotas – the things actually determining how many fish can be harvested.

The setting of quotas is very much a local/national political exercise, with pressure applied to Government fisheries ministers to ‘bring home’ liberal quotas (and in some instances days at sea, another method of managing fishing opportunity). The importance of quotas to concentrated fisheries-based economic areas is of course crucial and given the almost even split between left and right in many countries, the loss or gain of even a few seats could result in a change of government. The old phrase ‘all politics is local’ rings true in this situation.

If we do see Parliament gain the ability to set multi-year plans it could undermine the Council’s free wheeling powers and thus curtail the ability of national governments to use quotas as political bargaining chips. If targets are set via long-term plans, quotas would seemingly be determined by science and law, and not by politics.

Alongside this political/philosophical issue is of course the question of whether the actual stocks would benefit from long-term management, and on this we at Deep Blue must say ‘yes’. It seems obvious. But as with so much regarding the workings of the EU, all is never quite as it seems; at this point we don’t know what the multi-year management systems will look like. Much can happen before they are finalised.

Some see this as an opportunity to return powers to local authorities and/or industry. ‘Euro skeptics’ have been calling for this for a long time. If powers were returned to localities, but within a too weak structure, we could see something which runs counter to the original idea of basing decisions on scientific advice – quotas being set in the regions with national government ministerial guidance (politics), and not necessarily with Parliamentary participation.

Reed McFarland
European Coordinator
Deep Blue Public Relations


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