The Baltic Sea Multi-annual Plan: a child born to be wild?
The Baltic sea is the first region to be considered for a new fisheries management framework – the Baltic multi-annual plan (Baltic MAP). This plan is intended to make sure fishing is carried out at sustainable levels, and as it is the first multi-annual plan to be agreed under the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), it is essential that it sets the right example by sticking to the objectives agreed in the CFP and follows the best available scientific advice.
Unfortunately, the Baltic MAP proposal from the European Commission was not in line with the legal requirements of the CFP. It allows for fishing levels to be higher than those allowed under the CFP. Specifically, it proposes ‘ranges’ of exploitation that include levels that equate to overfishing, instead of limiting fishing to sustainable levels – the so called Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY).
When a species is being managed for its Maximum Sustainable Yield, it means the species is producing as much as it can (for us to catch) without hampering the ability of the species to replenish itself.
The CFP reform introduced a new and fundamental obligation: that fisheries management must aim to restore and maintain fish populations above MSY levels. The calculations have to take into consideration natural fluctuations that affect fish populations, and set fishing levels accordingly.
These principles need to be accurately reflected in all legal acts which set fishing quotas and regulate the quantity of fish taken from the sea. This is particularly the case for multi-annual management plans. By setting fishing ranges that allow overfishing instead of respecting sustainable upper limits, the proposal for the Baltic MAP is not in line with the CFP’s MSY requirement.
Proposals, policies and politics
The European Commission is in charge of proposing the first draft of legislation and so they were the first ones to draft a Baltic MAP. However, possibly because this MAP was partially drafted under the old CFP, the Commission does not appear to have a clear understanding of the difference between a ‘target’ and a ‘limit’ in relation to MSY. This may be why they proposed a fishing mortality ‘range’ that includes levels associated with overfishing, instead of a range that is in line with the reformed CFP’s requirements.
Once the Commission’s proposal was published, the EU decision-making process kicked in. For multi-annual plans this means that the Council (composed of all EU fisheries Ministers) and the European Parliament both developed their own views on the proposal, and then started negotiating with each other (with the involvement of the Commission) to try and come to an agreement. For the Baltic MAP these negotiations have stalled.
The European Parliament agreed its position in April and is now trying to ensure the fledgling Baltic MAP gets off on the right foot. The Parliament introduced a modification to the Commission’s proposal which much more accurately reflects the MSY requirement in the CFP. Through this very important amendment, the European Parliament is showing they respect the changes made to the CFP through the long reform process and are dedicated to seeing it implemented properly.
However, the Council are supporting the Commission’s proposal which has lead to the difficult negotiation between the European Parliament and the Council as they try to find an agreement.
There are many implications of a wild Baltic plan – none of them good
Hopefully the MSY requirement that the Parliament introduced – the one that actually brings the Baltic MAP in line with the CFP’s MSY requirement – will be accepted in their negotiations with Council. This will be good news for fish stocks and the fishing industry in the Baltic, and will set a good example for the development of MAPs in other areas. However, if the Baltic MAP isn’t brought into line with the CFP’s MSY requirement there’s the possibility that upcoming MAP proposals will make the same mistake – such as the one for the North Sea expected at the end of this year.
It is crucial that EU decision-makers stand up for the CFP’s MSY objective, and don’t create a ‘wild child’ Baltic MAP.