New dawn for the Common Fisheries Policy?

The Commission has published the long awaited reform proposals for the future of the CFP. The CFP reform package includes four proposals: a legislative proposal for a new CFP regulation, a legislative proposal for a market policy, a Communication on the external dimension of the CFP, and a report on conservation, sustainability and adjustment of fishing capacity in Europe. Collectively, the proposals should mark a new dawn for EU fisheries -but will they?

Much of the immediate media focus has been on the legislative proposal for the new CFP regulation, which has been presented by the Commission as an ‘an ambitious reform of the policy’. Significant changes include the proposals for a move to multi-species fisheries management, the introduction of a ban on discards, with a timetable for specific fisheries, and the introduction of a mandatory transferable quota (ITQ) system for vessels over 12m, alongside a more flexible approach to the management of the small-scale fleet. Other major highlights include the proposal to decentralise some elements of fisheries management to Member States, and the establishment of a new aquaculture advisory council to complement the current seven regional advisory councils.

The proposals are intended to address the problems of overfishing and overcapacity and increasing pressure identified as the main reasons for the critical state of EU fisheries and the sector. The key question is will the measures proposed in the regulation achieve that?

The answer is yes, they should make a contribution in part at least. The proposals represent a major step forward from the current system:

  • The move towards multi-species/fisheries based management, moving on from the single-species long term management plans is likely to contribute to the objective of ensuring an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management;
  • The planned phasing in of a discard ban is a significant change to the current policy and if properly implemented should bring environmental benefits. There will be costs involved, including additional administrative burdens on the sector and the Member States to ensure that all the fish landed is dealt with on land, and that the system is complied with (e.g. more observers at sea and inspectors at port). These need to be accepted rather than used as a reason for resisting change (see MRAG and IEEP, 2007);
  • The introduction of mandatory ITQs for vessels over 12m is one of the most significant changes proposed. Major questions remain over whether this more market based system is likely to result in the reduction in fleet overcapacity to the level that is required given the diminished resources available, and the extent to which the system is likely to favour the strongest and largest players in the sector;
  • Greater decentralisation of the EU fisheries management is proposed under the heading of regionalisation. The Commission proposes the delegation of powers to Member States at the regional level to develop and propose certain conservation and technical measures (such as gear type restrictions), recognising that some of the main decisions, for example, on TACs and quotas must be taken at the EU level. In principle, this is a positive development towards greater stakeholder input in the management of regional fisheries and a greater sense of regional responsibility. However some critics view the proposed delegation of powers as not going far enough, especially as the role of the Commission in decision-making will be increased.

This proposal will now form the basis of negotiation between Member States, the Commission and the European Parliament before a final regulation is adopted, probably at the end of 2012. In the case of many of the specific proposals, the ‘devil will be in the detail’ and the negotiations over the coming months will be monitored closely to ensure that the progressive elements of the reform are not lost and that the CFP emerges as a more robust policy, bringing a new era to fisheries management.

Further information on the CFP reform package and the proposals.