Battle to Curb Technical Conservation Fiasco

16th November 2009 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

Commission Proposals “Reckless and Irresponsible”The European Commission’s proposal for new technical conservation rules is a travesty, which breaks all the principles of good governance.

Battle to Curb Technical Conservation Fiasco

The reason that the Commission has belatedly decided to force a new technical conservation onto the statute books is to beat the arrival of the Lisbon Treaty, when all fisheries legislation, apart from the year end TACs and effort levels, will be subject to co-decision making with the European Parliament.

The new proposal is substantially different in structure and detail from the approach previously outlined and discussed with the regional advisory councils. And the truncated time frame before adoption by the Council of Ministers on 20th November means that unless a blocking minority of member states can be found, the Regulation, and with it the dozens of errors, confusions it contains, will become law on 1st January.

At present the NFFO has identified 35 necessary changes –some to prevent the economic collapse of particular fleet, some for safety on deck reasons and yet others to avoid unnecessary discards.

The core of the proposal, from the Commission’s point of view, is the provisions that would transfer decision making powers from the Council of Ministers to the Commission (in conjunction with a committee of member state officials). It argues that this arrangement is necessary to avoid the long delays -up to 2 years – associated with co-decision making.

Whilst it is certainly true that the Council machinery for regulating European fisheries is cumbersome, and co-decision making will undoubtedly make this a longer drawn out process, the transfer of decision-making authority to the unaccountable Commission and a wholly opaque management committee process holds no attractions for us.

The immediate issue is the poorly drafted, incoherent and overly prescriptive rules that will apply directly to fishing vessels if the new Regulation is adopted. Our concerns cover many aspects of the catch composition rules, inadequate definitions of fishing gear, new measures introduced without discussion or consultation, inappropriate minimum landing sizes, unenforceable emersion times, adverse consequences of a one mesh rule for vessels and selectivity, strengthening bags, length of cod end, net geometry rules with adverse safety implications, position of square mesh panels, and many others.

On the one net (one mesh) rule the Commission has come at the issue from an unnecessarily narrow control perspective rather from a broader and more sensible stock conservation direction. The essential point is that it is necessary to allow fishing vessels to carry the gear that permits them to be selective in different fisheries. Restricting vessels to nets of only one mesh size ensures that the most profitable mesh size will be selected and this will often mean that additional catch will have to be discarded.The NFFO’s letter to the UK Minister Huw Irranca-Davies on this subject is reproduced below:

“ Dear Minister

Technical Conservation Regulation

All the signs are that the Commission and the Swedish Presidency are determined to push through a new Technical Conservation Regulation at the November Council of Ministers meeting.

The speed at which negotiations are now proceeding, after a long period in which they were all but stalled, the dramatically new texts that have emerged from the Commission, and the ludicrously short timescale before decision, have effectively precluded the fishing industry from consultation in any but the most cosmetic sense. The regional advisory councils have written to the Commission in protest.

Technical conservation, especially in the broad brush form it is taking in this proposal, requires detailed scrutiny and careful consideration if it is not to result in one big mess. We know this from our experience with the existing Technical Conservation Regulation EC 870/98.

Driving through the Regulation in this way is reckless and irresponsible and amounts to an abandonment of the duty of care. It in no way can be justified by an attempt to beat the Lisbon process and co-decision making. Make no mistake, we would prefer to take our chances with co-decision making, rather than face the consequence of this botched job. In any event, we share the views of those who have no enthusiasm for an alternative to Council/European Parliament micro-management that devolves decision-making powers to the Commission under comitology arrangements.

In arriving at the November Council you are likely to be faced with a request for the UK’s three priorities for changing the text. It is likely that the UK’s industry list will run closer to 30, on the basis of the texts we have seen; and those are only the problems that we have identified; in this kind of regulation there are always problems that emerge from detailed scrutiny (if we are lucky) or during implementation (when we are not).

Against this background and the legal and economic consequences for the industry if the Regulation is agreed, it will not be acceptable to go along with the Commission’s approach on the basis that the outcome would have been worse without UK input. Specifically, it will not be acceptable for the UK Minister to put his name up to a Regulation that has been rushed into law, that is incoherent, littered with mistakes and confusion and will have serious economic and legal consequences for the industry.

The Commission has forced member states into this difficult position. The UK should therefore take the lead in a blocking minority (or possibly majority) of member states on the basis that this rushed approach will deliver precisely the opposite of what is required.”