Effort Control in 2012: Back from the Precipice

19th December 2011 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The UK, with strong support from France, Germany, Spain, Netherlands and Denmark, managed to overturn the Commission’s perverse interpretation of the Article 13 effort buyback provisions which, if implemented, would have left the main whitefish and nephrops fleets with only a few weeks fishing in 2012.

The threat of immediate and widespread bankruptcies has been averted but it was not possible to secure a “pause” in the pre-programmed reductions in permissible days-at-sea required by the now discredited EU Cod Management Plan. This means that the UK whitefish fleets outside the Celtic Sea will face further effort reductions in 2012:

Area Gear Category Effort Reduction in 2012*

North Sea TR1 -18%

North Sea TR2 -18%

North Sea BT2 -9%

Irish Sea TR1 -25%

Irish Sea TR2 -25%

West of Scotland TR1 -25%

West of Scotland TR 2 -25%*Subject to confirmation

A large part of the December Council was devoted to finding a way forward on the effort issue. The Cod Plan has been evaluated by STECF and found to be flawed in some of its essentials. However, the political logjam arising from the Lisbon Treaty’s extension of co-decision to fisheries has left a legal instrument in place with (according to Commission lawyers) no way of amending it quickly.

The result is fleets trapped in ever decreasing effort reductions with little hope of relief before 2014.

This absurd situation, in which process rides roughshod over objectives, common sense is not in sight and the legal tail wags the conservation dog, is intolerable and underlines the need to move rapidly to some form of regional management.

Had the Commission’s interpretation of Article 13 won the day it would have undermined and brought to an abrupt halt all the conservation initiatives – real time closures, catch quotas and selectivity measures – brought in by the UK under the effort buyback provision. The Commission’s efforts, during the negotiations, to secure member states’ commitment to detailed, prescriptive, selectivity measures, especially for the nephrops fleet, had all the hallmarks of the characteristic failings of the CFP. Rushed measures agreed by people under extreme pressure, who only have the faintest grasp of what they are talking about, within a 48 hour time window, is a sure the way to get it wrong. The UK successfully resisted this approach but it is clear that expectations are high that additional selectivity measures to reduce discards in the TR2 fleet will be introduced during 2012.