This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
Commissioner Damanaki and Europeche
For the first time since she took office two years ago, Commissioner Damanaki met recently with Europeche, the principal European level representative body for the European fishing industry.
Readers will arrive at their own conclusions about what that delay says about the Commissioner’s priorities and predilections.
In the event, this was a useful meeting covering a wide range of important issues.
Europeche expressed the fishing industry’s support for decentralisation of the Common Fisheries Policy and a move away from micro-management, beginning with a transfer of management decisions to the regional sea basin level. Given the options available within the legal (Treaty) constraints, all of which have a number of disadvantages1, Europeche wondered whether regionalisation would result in a genuine transfer of responsibility; the danger is that, as with the current Cod Management Plan, setting objectives, targets and time-tables at European level but limiting member states’ role (even cooperating at regional level) to the implementation of these fundamental decisions, would amount to the retention of top-down system, this time through a kind of remote control.
The Commissioner seemed quite genuine and animated when she replied that the Commission had no desire to retain responsibility over micro-decisions within the CFP. There was no lack of political will within the Commission in regionalising the CFP but the legal constraints were a reality. She invited Europeche to meet with her in January to discuss further the options for achieving meaningful regionalisation of decision-making within the CFP.
The Commission’s apparent kneejerk and media driven intention to deal with the undoubted problem of discards through a notional ban was challenged by Europeche. The complex and multifaceted reasons for discards suggested that a fishery-by-fishery approach that deals meaningfully with issues such as differential survival rates for different species and mixed fisheries issues is the approach required. The high level of discarding generated as a result of the Commission’s own regulations was highlighted as an obvious place to start.
The Commissioner was very firm that societal interest in the discard issue meant that the Commission was determined to stick with its ambitious policy approach based on a ban with a mandatory timetable for named species. It might be necessary to build in necessary flexibilities and exemptions but there could be no departure from the central thrust of the policy.
Maximum Sustainable Yield
Europeche listed a growing number of fisheries which had already achieved fishing mortalities consistent with the MSY range and described the progress made by many others towards this destination. There were a number of real success stories that never seemed to attract media attention.
It would make no sense however, to apply a rigid obligation for all fisheries to achieve MSY by an arbitrary fixed date. Especially in mixed and multi-species fisheries there are sound biological as well as socio-economic reasons why forcing all stocks into this rigid template will fail and cause great pain in the process. A more pragmatic approach would still get most stocks to MSY but in a way that dealt with the realities. Progress is already evident in the ICES advice of the general move in this direction of MSY – again a development that has attracted zero media interest.
Commissioner Damanaki seemed unmoved by these arguments and reaffirmed that although there might have to be scope made for some exemptions, the Commission would try to persuade the member states and the European Parliament of the desirability of a mandatory MSY framework.
Concern was expressed about the Commission’s level of commitment to achieving partnership agreements with Third Countries and the self imposed EU conditions which would put EU fleets at a competitive disadvantage in relation to other international fishing fleets.
The Commissioner’s assured Europeche that she was committed to securing a new generation of partnership agreements but that she faced opposition from within the Council as well as the European Parliament.
Small Scale Fleets
The issue of small scale fleets was discussed. Europeche suggested that the Commission’s move away from the notion of a differentiated approach between large-scale and small-scale fleets for fisheries management purposes was wise, given the complexities involved in defining a small-scale, artisanal, low-impact fleet at European rather than at local level and the inter-dependence of large and small-scale fleets. Even the definition (under-12m, passive gear) used in the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund would give rise to anomalies.
The Commissioner seemed surprised at the level of involvement of small-scale fleets in the Europeche associations and one is left to speculate on the advice that she has been receiving in this respect.
Transferable Fishing Concessions
It was explained that within Europeche there was a range of views on the desirability and effectiveness of transferable fishing quotas within individual member states. However, there was broad Europeche agreement that this should not be an area of Community competence and indeed that this part of the reform package ran against the general arguments in favour of transferring responsibilities downwards not upwards.
The Commissioner seemed genuinely undecided on this issue and invited Europeche to discuss the detailed issues with her further.
Europeche noted that the political landscape in fisheries had changed quite radically with the arrival of the regional advisory councils and co-decision with the European Parliament. The Commission had signalled the dissolution of the EU Advisory Committee for Fisheries and Aquaculture but had yet to explain what consultative arrangements would replace it to deal with the issues of horizontal European interest.
Commissioner Damanaki indicated that reflections on the best way forward on this issue were still under way within the Commission but the fact that ACFA had cost in the region of 500,000 euros to run suggested that a more streamlined approach was required.
This was a useful meeting that possibly cleared up some misconceptions in the Commissioner’s mind. The Chairman of Europeche, Javier Garat, underlined the degree to which the fishing industry now worked maturely and collaboratively with fisheries scientists as well as the authorities in the member states. The Commission’s remoteness means however that there remains a deficit in trust between the Commission towards the fishing industry and the fishing industry towards the Commission. It was Europeche’s desire, aim and intention to build that trust but that took reciprocity.
Despite the changes to the political landscape, and in some cases like co-decision because of those changes, it would remain vital to have a strong dialogue at the European level and Europeche stood ready as the principal fisheries interlocutor at that level to engage with the Commission.
- Co -decision means a very slow decision making process, suited only to very high level strategic decisions
- According additional delegated powers to the Commission, a largely unaccountable body, with minimal transparency and a poor track record does not seem desirable
- Member states making their own rules for their fleets alone raises the obvious question of equivalence with what is introduced by other member states unless there was a very high degree of cooperation and collaboration at regional seas level