Reforming the European Common
photo: kieth bacongco
Fisheries in the European Union are at a critical cross road. For years, the majority of EU fish stocks have been characterised by a lack of data, and when data was available it showed that most stocks were being overfished. Although some stocks have improved in recent years due to the concerted effort of fisheries scientists and managers, the fishing industry and policy makers, some areas are still badly overfished. For example, as the European Commission reported in June 2012, of the stocks in the northeast Atlantic with sufficient data, 47% of stocks were overfished this year as opposed to 95% in 2005. However, in other areas such as the Mediterranean, 90% of stocks don’t have enough data to make an assessment, and 9 out of 10 of stocks that are assessed are overfished.
Scientists, environmentalists, the fishing industry and EU Member States have agreed that the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) needs much improvement. The European Union has committed to reforming the Common Fisheries Policy and the European Commission has called for major changes to “business as usual”, but whether this will be delivered will depend hugely on the ambition of the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament, as well as the co-operation of the European Commission and others.
Despite the grand, admirable statements made about the reform so far, as with many policies, the devil will be in the detail. The specific wording of the articles that make up the reformed CFP will go a long way towards determining whether stock health continues to improve. As a team of lawyers and scientists, ClientEarth has been working hard to ensure that the reformed CFP will be robust, ambitious, and capable of increasing benefits to the environment and the people who rely on fishing.
For example, in June 2012 ClientEarth, in coordination with Fish Fight, took out four full page advertisements to remind Fisheries Ministers in the UK, France, Spain, and Poland that we were paying attention to their actions. This was in reference to a key meeting where the Committee sought to agree a common position on the reform. This massive public pressure helped prevent weakening of the reform proposal, and left the possibility of an ambitious reform open.
ClientEarth is also a member of the Discard Action Group, a multi-stakeholder group working to resolve industry-wide problems regarding discards.
There are a number of key issues (see below) in the reform that have been generating controversy – and some confusion as well. To try to set the record straight and suggest workable solutions, the ClientEarth team has produced a series of briefings on topics including maximum sustainable yield, discards, regionalisation, and transferable fishing concessions (see full list below).
If you’re interested in a quick overview of the main issues and our ideas on how these can be resolved, please have a look at our key recommendations (also available in French and German).
Topics covered by our CFP briefings include:
Fishing levels and Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)
Fishing levels (more specifically, fishing mortality) that will allow stocks to recover to or be maintained above biomass levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield need to be adopted as soon as possible. At the very latest by 2020 stocks should be at MSY levels, with a healthy population age and size structure, to meet the requirements of good environmental status under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive.
For a detailed description of MSY, including important considerations and scientific justification, see our in-depth explanation. For those with a little less time, our summary briefing provides a good overview of the main issues around MSY, including things to watch out for as it applies to policy.
For a broader take on how we can stop overexploitation of EU fish stocks, please see our detailed paper or summary briefing (also available in French and German) on eliminating overfishing.
We have also written, for those who are limited by time or who don’t feel they have much background knowledge on these issues, a two page paper on MSY and blog post on MSY, which provide good overviews. We also have a similarly concise paper on sustainable fishing in mixed fisheries, where multiple species are caught using the same fishing gear.
Discards are fish and other animals that are thrown back into the sea, usually dead or dying, after they’ve been caught in fishing gear. This can happen for many different reasons. In 2011, the European Commission estimated that 23% of total catches (amounting to 1.7 million tonnes of all species) were being discarded each year in European fisheries – or even up to third of the catch for some Member States. Most animals that are discarded do not survive, so discarding is not only frustrating for fishers – it also represents a waste of resources and an unnecessary impact on stock and ecosystem health.
Thanks in part to initiatives such as Hugh’s Fish Fight, there is increasing awareness of the need to tackle this problem – which was created in large part by CFP regulations in the first place.
We have produced a detailed analysis on discarding, why it should end, and how to go about this. These issues are also covered in our summary briefing, which is also available in French and German.
Finally, our “Simply Discards” paper describes, in two pages, the ways we can A.T.T.A.C.K. (for an explanation, read the briefing!) the problem of catching and discarding unwanted species.
Transitioning to ecosystem-based fisheries management
Our summary briefing explains, in a few pages, why the transition to full ecosystem-based management will be critical to achieve true environmental (and social) sustainability in the oceans (also available in French and German). This includes:
• measuring ecosystem-level targets and health indicators;
• total catch management (i.e. recording everything that is caught – not just the fish that are brought back to land – and counting it against quota where applicable);
• the collection and assessment of ecosystem level data;
• elimination of discards through proactive bycatch avoidance and reduction;
• the coverage of all fished stocks by multiannual plans based on scientific advice;
• environmentally sustainable development and management of aquaculture (see our briefing on aquaculture); and
• consideration of social and cultural needs.
Governance and Regionalisation
Our detailed assessment and summary briefing (also available in French and German) explain why the reformed CFP’s framework should provide workable mechanisms for regional management, which is essential for an ecosystem-based approach. There should be adequate stakeholder involvement in regional decision-making, clarity on when the EU and Member States may and must act, what measures must be taken, and what happens if they are not. As part of the EU’s governance requirements, decision-making and compliance mechanisms must be transparent, with the compatibility and effectiveness of technical, conservation and other measures periodically reviewed and made publically available.
Our supplementary briefing on making regionalisation work explains how regionalisation can be achieved within the boundaries of the EU Treaty and provides examples of other legislation that already takes a similar approach.
Transparency and Compliance
Among the most important causes of the critical situation in European fisheries are poor compliance with the rules and inadequate transparency in fisheries management. Our in-depth paper explains the legal and technical measures that would improve the CFP reform proposal, including the need to create incentives for compliance. The summary briefing that accompanies this gives a good overview of these issues, including a quick explanation of things like video monitoring technology, making access to financial assistance (i.e. subsidies) conditional on compliance with the rules, and how to improve transparency (also available in French and German).
Prioritising the Environment
Enshrined in the Treaty of the European Union (as well as the current CFP regulation), the EU has a legal obligation to work towards sustainable development. The EU and Member States are required to prioritise the environment. Our detailed assessment and summary briefing (also available in French and German) explain why the CFP reform must prioritise the environment, why the current proposals are not strong enough, and how they can be improved.
Integrating Environmental Requirements into the CFP
Key to the reformed CFP achieving its objectives will be how well it integrates environmental protection into its management framework. Integration of environmental protection is a legal requirement under the founding Treaties of the EU. Our detailed assessment and summary briefing (also in French and German) on integration explain how this principle can and must be better represented and incorporated in the CFP reform.
Transferable Fishing Concessions
Transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) are a form of rights-based fisheries management that would entitle the holder to a specific proportion of their Member State’s annual fishing quota or allowable fishing effort. The European Commission proposed a mandatory requirement to introduce a TFC system across Europe, which it is claimed would reduce overcapacity (too many boats trying to share the available fishing opportunities, such as fishing days or quota) and overfishing, and improve economic performance of the catching sector. Our in-depth paper and summary briefing (also in French and German) explain that, on their own, TFCs would not necessarily end overcapacity. Similarly, they would not end overfishing, and could actually increase both, depending on the circumstances.
Furthermore, our detailed analysis and summary briefing (also available in French, German and Polish) explain why a mandatory requirement for Member States to adopt TFCs could conflict with the EU principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, and would be unlawful under the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (Article 345) because the EU is not allowed to interfere with the property rights systems of Member States.
In that context, we have also carried out specific analyses of Germany’s, Poland’s, and England and Wales’ laws, which show that in those countries TFCs would be regarded as property rights.
Our long-term vision for fisheries in Europe
Working closely with the Marine Conservation Society we have combined legal and scientific expertise and have developed a proposal for fundamental, long-term reform of the CFP which would achieve ecologically sustainable fisheries and would secure a future for the European fishing industry. We are calling our proposal the Fishing Credits System.
The Fishing Credits System (FCS) applies a completely new approach to fisheries management and aims to create a culture of compliance by involving the industry in fisheries management, creating incentives for best practice and rewarding compliance. It uses the precautionary principle and proposes a framework for fisheries management based on ecosystems regions; each species caught within a region is worth a particular number of credits (which are weighted, based on criteria such as the species’ vulnerability to overexploitation) and fishers in the region are given yearly credits allowances to use on any species they chose, as long as they do not exceed their total credits allowance. Under the FCS there would therefore be no need to discard to avoid going over-quota on a particular species.
The FCS would eliminate almost all technical regulations and allow fishers to select their gear. It would also require everything caught to be recorded and landed, including most bycatch species. To ensure fishers can maximise the return from their credits allowance, the FCS allows a proportion of the credits to be traded between active fishers. Under the FCS, compliance and best practice are rewarded with extra credits.
We are working to encourage trials of the FCS and to promote the concept within the EU.
Watch James Thornton explain ClientEarth's plan to protect fisheries to Karen Coleman on Ireland's award-winning radio show “the Wide Angle” on “Newstalk”. He explores the problem of overfishing in Europe and ClientEarth's work with the Marine Conservation Society to make sure we can enjoy fish suppers in the future.
Read more about the Fishing Credits System: Summary Note, Full Proposal, Industry Guide.
Finally, you can find out more about our other work in Biodiversity Publications
James Thornton explains ClientEarth's plan to protect fisheries