Monday, 18 July 2011

Q&A - The reform of the EU Fishing Policy

The EU Commission has proposed major changes to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), designed to cut waste and stop overfishing in European waters. Under the plan, the existing system of fishing quotas - which often leads to tonnes of perfectly good fish being dumped at sea - will be reformed.

The following has been taken from the BBC News website

What is wrong with the existing system?

The European Commission says the current policy is wasteful - 75% of stocks are still overfished and catches are only a fraction of what they were 15-20 years ago. Catches of cod for example have declined by 70% in the last 10 years.

The Commission believes that the "top down" system of micro-managing fisheries from Brussels is failing and that decision-making needs to be decentralised.

The method of allocating fishing quotas EU-wide has contributed to the serious depletion of stocks, the Commission says. Crews that haul in more than the agreed quota often throw large quantities of dead fish back into the sea - the much-criticised "discards".

The system is not meeting the European market's needs. Fish imported from non-EU countries now accounts for two-thirds of the fish sold in the EU.

What was the current policy designed to do?

The idea of agreed quotas was to make Europe's fishing stable and sustainable and prevent conflicts arising where foreign trawlers fish in a country's waters.

The quota system - called Total Allowable Catches (TACs) for each fish stock - is at the heart of the CFP, launched in 1983. The TACs are based on a country's previous catches.

Over time Europe's fishing fleets have grown too large for the dwindling fish stocks, but fisheries ministers are often reluctant to see their national TACs reduced. The Commission says the CFP has been plagued by short-term decision-making.

How does the EU plan to protect fish stocks now?

The practice of discards must be phased out, the Commission says. In future trawlers will have to land their entire catch - and that means member states will have to ensure that better technology is installed to monitor compliance.

The Commission wants EU governments to switch from subsidising fishing fleets to a more market-driven approach to fishing.

Large fleets will be allocated transferable catch shares, called "concessions", which they will be able to trade, in response to local conditions. Such trades will be organised nationally - they will not take place between EU states. The concessions will be valid for at least 15 years.

The Commission says fisheries should be managed on an "ecosystem" basis - there needs to be more flexibility in the system and more scientific data needs to be collected on a larger number of fish species.

A new funding mechanism will be set up for 2014-2020 called the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), with a budget of 6.7bn euros (£6bn).

Part of that fund will help support small-scale coastal fleets. Member states will be able to restrict fishing in a zone within 12 nautical miles of the coast, up to the year 2022.

What is the time frame for the changes?

The Commission wants the new CFP to be in place by 1 January 2013.

So there will be at least 18 months of negotiations between EU governments and the European Parliament before the new rules are adopted. There are likely to be many amendments.

The first transferable concessions are to be introduced in 2014, covering several species including mackerel, herring and tuna. More species will be covered in subsequent years.

What has been the response so far to the plan?

The UK government is enthusiastic, calling it a "vital first step" towards sustainable fisheries.

UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said more work must be done to encourage consumers to buy a wider range of fish.

That message was echoed by Sainsbury's, which said "it is imperative that supermarkets such as Sainsbury's help create the consumer demand for lesser known species by promoting them to our customers".

Scottish Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said the EU reforms "need to be a lot more radical".

He praised the Commission's emphasis on conservation of stocks, but said more carefully targeted measures would be needed to stop discards.

The environmental group Oceana called for proper management plans for a much larger number of fish stocks.

It voiced concern that the Commission plan "doesn't establish any mechanisms to deal with landed by-catch". There is a risk that the surplus fish landed - instead of being discarded at sea - will simply be sold and that could incentivise overfishing, Oceana says.

Another green group, WWF, said the proposed tradable concessions could lead to a monopolisation of fishing by a few big fleets.

Related stories...

Demand for fish outstrips supply: Annual consumption of fish is almost double what can be caught in UK seas, says research -

Fish dumping must be banned to protect stocks, EU chief rules: The practice by European fishermen of throwing away large amounts of the fish they catch must end, the European Commission said yesterday, in outlining radical proposals to shake up Europe's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) -

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