Bigger fish to fry?
By Chris Dove
“It will be a great achievement for the Parliament if we can curb unsustainable fishing and allow depleted fish stocks to recover.”
Chris Davies – Member of the European Parliament, ‘Fish for the Future’ Group
One week after Mercabarna’s Central Fish Market reopened for business in Zona Franca’s €4.6 million new premises – unveiled by Barcelona’s Deputy Mayor, Jordi W Carnes – Members of the European Parliament’s ‘Fish for the Future’ group met in Brussels to present “The tool kit for better fishing”.
Spearheaded by Chris Davies MEP from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE), the 30 March seminar cemented another progressive step in the group’s ongoing campaign to protect our future fish stocks, while preparing the way for debates on radical changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) taking place under the watch of EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki later this year.
ALDE is the European Parliament’s third largest political party. As Liberal Democrat fisheries spokesman representing the UK’s North West of England constituency, Davies assembled Members of the European Commission, non-experts, fellow MEPs, assistants and representatives of civil society associations to look at innovative measures that might be used to improve fishing practices.
“Tool kit for better fishing”
Chaired by Mr Davies and Anna Rosbach MEP, keynote speaker Ernesto Peñas Lado representing the Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) highlighted key challenges facing the industry today, given the rise in fuel prices and ongoing economic crisis.
Peñas pointed out five structural difficulties with the Common Fisheries Policy as it stands: overcapacity; imprecise policy objectives; its short-termism; lack of industry responsibility; and compliance problems.
Despite these difficulties, he cited examples of CFP’s partial successes, including the work of Regional Advisory Councils; progressive long term management plans; and the fact that subsidies are no longer distributed for vessel construction.
An indication of what the proposal may feature includes:
• The establishing of clear long-term objectives
• The introduction of a rights-based management system – decentralised at national level; to exclude small-scale fishermen
• Stressing the importance of consumer empowerment to make informed choices when buying sustainable fish
• Overcoming the biggest challenge – improving scientific methodologies, data collection, information dissemination and advice
• Suggested timeline: part of the package scheduled before this summer; the proposal on financial regulation scheduled for October/November.
CFP in a nutshell
Although rules concerning access to European fishing grounds, markets and structures hail from as far back as 1970, the introduction of the EU’s 25 million km² Exclusive Economic Zone in 1976 granted member states’ authority to extend rights over their marine resources from 12 to 200 miles off their coastlines.
As nations began expanding their domestic fleets to exploit these waters, the Common Fisheries Policy came into force in 1983 with a clear mandate to legislate and regulate on the amount of fish taken from the sea by monitoring vessels’ activities across all states.
Active in four key areas, CFP’s fundamental aim is the conservation of fish stocks to ensure that young fish are able to reproduce in large enough numbers and at fast enough rates to sustain healthy populations. Through DG-MARE, the Commission sets quotas for each country’s total allowable catch (TAC) − the maximum tonnage of each fish species they may catch each year.
Taking account of fast-moving changes in global seafood supply and consumption patterns, CFP supports the adaptation of fishing and aquaculture industries faced with constraints imposed by scarce resources, offering organisations capacity-building programmes and equipment to help strengthen and develop their market position.
The policy organises fish products by matching supply and demand to benefit producers and consumers, as well as extending trade relations and negotiating agreements with non-EU countries regarding deep-sea fishing conservation measures.
The need for CFP reform
Reporting earlier on ‘Fish for the Future’s’ January seminar, “The need for an ambitious CFP reform”, SeafoodSource News (organisers of the annual European Seafood Exposition, Brussels, Belgium, 3-5 May 2011), drew attention to ALDE’s solutions for combatting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), including greater liaison with Regional Advisory Councils and fishermen’s’ incentive schemes (‘Crunch time for CFP reform’, www.seafoodsource.com/newsarticledetail.aspx?id=9055).
IUU is a thorn in the side of EU policy makers and fishermen alike. Intent on stopping illegal catches of undersized fish – many species of which are listed by the 175-member Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) – vessels are relentlessly pursued through international waters using highly sophisticated tracking technology, checking that fleets do not catch banned or threatened species, nor exceed the annual national quotas the European Commission allocates.
Among ALDE’s other CFP priorities are implementing an eco-labelling scheme for all seafood products and promoting environmentally-friendly fish farming initiatives by creating a legal framework for a sustainable European aquaculture industry that “respects the environment, increases its economic viability and offers consumers greater guarantees.”
To help combat stock depletion, Europe’s market share of aquaculture versus wild fish products needs to grow more rapidly than its current low levels of national penetration. Farmed seafood accounts for around one fifth of total seafood supply, yet among many opinion leaders and consumers, aquaculture’s positive image is increasingly contributing to release the pressure on precious limited wild fish stocks.
Crunch time for fish eaters
Spain – with Europe’s largest fishing fleet and high seafood consumption (41 kg per capita per annum; beaten by Portugal’s 55 kg per capita, the EU’s highest) – is bound to feel the impact of CFP reform more than most.
Already the target of open criticism in a Greenpeace report last May, ‘The destructive practices of Spain’s fishing armada’, concerns raised over the EU subsidies Spain receives for its high number of vessels operating outside EU waters combine with repeated accusations of IUU fishing to prove all that is wrong with the current CFP, Greenpeace claim. The group backs proposals to reduce fleet capacity, develop marine protected areas and halt destructive fishing practices.
A slice of the (fish) pie
Spain is all too aware of its dependency on EU fisheries subsides. An analysis of European Commission and member governments’ data places it top among the 27 member states in receiving some 48% of subsidies dispensed. Overall, the EU’s 2007-13 budget provides €4.3 billion fisheries subsidies – that’s €837 million per year.
A subsequent March 2011 report commissioned by the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety, published by the Directorate-General for Internal Policies, recommends reforming fish subsidies, noting that “it remains a challenge to align management and control systems in such a way that fisheries subsidies do not cause harm.”
Funds, the report suggests, should be channelled from vessel owners towards potentially ‘good subsidies’, including scientific research for stock assessments and retraining fishermen for alternative employment opportunities.
According to non-profit media research group EU Transparency, “Vessels themselves are not the recipients of EU funds. It is the owner of the vessel who receives the funds…record-keeping by member states is not good enough.”
To allay unfounded fears over Spanish fish industry-bashing, Raül Romeva i Rueda as the country’s substitute member of the EC Fisheries Committee is also one of three Green group MEPs fronting the CFP-reformwatch initiative, ensuring transparency, facilitating news reporting and promoting stakeholder involvement.
CFP reform under Council Regulation 2371/2002 of 20 December 2002 introduced a simpler system for limiting fishing capacity, granting member states greater responsibility in achieving a better balance between their fleets’ fishing capacity and available resources. A substantial fleet modernisation finance programme was established under the current European Fisheries Fund (2007-13) and former Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (2000-06).
In the pipeline for several years, CFP is scheduled for a long-overdue overhaul. Submitting a Question to Commissioner Damanaki in early March 2011, ‘Fish for the Future’s’ Chris Davies sought an indication of the timetable the Commission is working to in order to put in place new CFP regulations by 31 December 2012. Ms Damanaki’s written answer stated: “The adoption of the reform package for the Common Fisheries Policy by the College of Commissioners is envisaged later in 2011.”
‘Ship-shape of things to come’
While CFP 2002 remains in force, the Commissioner expressed her desire to agree a new basic regulation before equal access rules to inland community waters and restrictions to nations’ exclusive 12-nautical mile fishing zone expire on 31 December 2012.
Key principles behind the CFP reform package include:
• A proposal for a new basic regulation and a Report on certain provisions in the current basic regulation;
• A proposal for a new regulation on market policy;
• A proposal for the 2014-20 financial instrument;
• An overarching Communication on CFP reform;
• A Communication on CFP’s external dimension.
To avoid a situation arising in which no agreement is made by year end, the Commissioner “would propose in time a prolongation of the relevant articles, to be adopted in a co-decision procedure.”
CFP reform cannot exist in isolation from the EU’s wider marine policy. Working alongside Spain’s newly appointed Secretary General of the Sea, Alicia Villauriz Iglesias, the Minister for the Environment, Rural and Marine Affairs, Rosa Aguilar will be taking stock of outcomes from the EP Committee on Fisheries’ extraordinary meeting in Strasbourg on 4 April.
Topping the agenda is a programme to support the further development of an integrated maritime policy and structured dialogue with Commissioner Damanaki on political and legislative priorities for 2012.