CFP Reform: Council Agree ‘General Approach’

13th June 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The Council of Ministers reached political agreement on a ‘General Approach’ to CFP reform in the early hours of the morning of 13th June.

This document will form the basis of a negotiation position when a trialogue opens with the European Parliament and the European Commission, beginning this autumn and possibly extending over the next 12 months.

The conclusions of this important meeting should therefore best be regarded as an important staging post on the way to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

An NFFO delegation travelled to Luxembourg for the talks and met before during and after the Council with the UK Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, and his officials to ensure that the industry’s views were taken into account.

Regionalisation

The General Approach takes a significant step towards regionalisation of the CFP, now widely regarded as a necessary precondition for responsive and effective management of European fisheries. All of the UK's proposals in this respect have been picked up and it is fair to say that the UK has driven this aspect of the reform forward, although with substantial support from other member states at various stages.

The new provisions, if adopted, would allow member states which hold fishing rights for a particular regional sea (e.g. North Sea, Irish Sea, Celtic Sea, Channel) to work together on management arrangements; and where there is agreement, the Commission will adopt those measures using its delegated or implementing powers, without adding its own layer of control. This ought to provide a substantial degree of empowerment of Member States at regional level. The big issue now is whether the European Parliament will be able to resist the temptation to micro-manage fisheries rather than leaving it to the member states working with the advisory committees at regional level.

Discard Ban

The Council adopted the principle of an obligation for fishing vessels to land their whole catch of named regulated species, with a phase out of discards beginning with the pelagic fisheries on 2014 and the others over the period 2015 -2018, starting with lead species. This dramatic and media focused headline begs a number of important questions about how it could be achieved at the practical level, given that there are different reasons for discards including a number of EU fisheries regulations, low or no consumer demand, or insufficiently selective fishing gear.

In an agreed Statement a rather loose form of words has been agreed that commits the Commission to review those CFP regulations that generate discards in order to make the landings requirement workable. This review will apparently include the removal of effort control, changes to the technical conservation rules (including the catch composition rules) and various control rules. It also provides for the increase of TACs subject to scientific advice. These are important preconditions if a landings requirement for named regulated species is going to be deliverable.

Maximum Sustainable Yield

The concept of maximum sustainable yield is perhaps useful as a political aspiration but impractical as a guide to day-to-day fisheries management. It was important therefore that the Council adopted an approach to maximum sustainable that allows sufficient flexibility to deal with the realities of mixed and multi-species fisheries. A workable solution that covers MSY in mixed fisheries appears to have been agreed. In particular, alternative conservation measures that would deal with the problem of ‘choke’ stocks within a management plan seem to have been catered for.

Adoption

Most of the main fishing member states agreed to the final text, with the exception of Netherlands, whose Parliament intervened to ensure that its incoming government’s hands were not tied in the future. France did so after getting the Prime Minister out of bed to approve the deal. Sweden opposed the deal on the grounds that it is not green enough. Greece, Malta and a few other member states also opposed for their own reasons.

All of the above will require careful checking against the final text when it becomes available and the Federation will be meeting with Defra officials in the next few weeks to discuss the Council Proposal and the next steps in the reform process.