Within the context of Common Fisheries Policy reform, the European Commission published a Communication on ways to modernize EU third country fisheries agreements. Third country agreements were introduced following the establishment of Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) out to 200 nautical miles in the 1970s, resulting in almost 90 per cent of exploitable fish resources coming under the control of coastal States. The agreements effectively give the EU access to resources in the waters of developing countries, in exchange for financial payment. Over the years, agreements have increasingly included development and environment measures. Commonly between 20 and 70 percent of the EU’s payment is targeted at scientific activities, surveillance, and training and development of the local fisheries sector.
In 2002, the EU had 16 such agreements with ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries, predominantly involving African coastal States, and costing the EU EUR 200 million. However, scientists such as Daniel Pauly, have pointed to the enormous decline in resources in the last 50 years: off the coast of North Africa, the bottom fish biomass has decreased with around 75 per cent since the 1950s.
Environment and development NGOs have long voiced concerns over EU policy in this area, pointing to the ‘footprint’ that agreements leave on local communities as well as environments. There has also been considerable pressure from environment and development interests within the Commission and some Member State administrations to at least make agreements coherent with other EU policies. The external dimension of EU fisheries policy has also been identified as critical in the EU’s pursuit of sustainable development, including the WSSD goal of restoring depleted fish stocks where possible not later than 2015. The Communication seeks to address these concerns, setting out a new ‘partnership’ approach for negotiating and implementing future fishing agreements.