European Parliament CFP Reform Amendments

5th December 2012 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The fishing industry has an overwhelming interest in a practical and workable Common Fisheries Policy. Too often fisheries measures in the past have been legislated with minimal attention to how the policy might be successfully implemented to achieve its objectives.

Once the ink is dry, legislators have tended to pay little attention to implementation - until the policy is evaluated and found to have failed, or at least delivered much less than anticipated.

It is our view that the gulf between legislation and practical implementation should be central to the debate over the European Parliament's final positions on CFP reform, before it again engages with the Council of Ministers and the Commission, on the shape of a new CFP. A crucial vote in the European Parliament Fisheries Committee, on compromise amendments, is scheduled for 18th December.

Before we get into the detail, it is worth making one important point. There is, in fact, little difference between the aspirations of the environmental NGOs and the fishing industry in the goals or destination points for the new Policy. We both aspire to fish stocks harvested sustainably with high long term yields. However, there are wide differences in our views about what should be done to get there.

The EP approach, apparently heavily influenced by the NGO's, seems very divorced from the practicalities of implementation. Perhaps this is inevitable under the current arrangements, as the Parliament are legislators with no responsibility for applying the measures enacted, unlike member states who to some degree at least, have to live with the consequences of their decisions.

The 104 European Parliament amendments (condensed from 2500)and prepared by rapporteur Ulrike Rodust MEP and a number of shadow rapporteurs from the various political groupings, exhibit the hallmarks of environmental NGOs' extensive lobbying efforts backed, as we now know, by huge financial resources.

Confusingly and unhelpfully, the amendments are made to Commission's original proposal. But the world has moved on. In June, in Luxembourg, the Council adopted its "general approach" to CFP reform, and it is reconciling the EP positions with this document (in "trialogue" with the Commission) over the coming year that will provide the basis for the new CFP.

The Council’s "General Approach" is not a document that we would have drafted presented with a blank piece of paper, but as a compromise, we think that with some judicious adaptations, it could provide a workable basis for a reformed CFP. Clearly, the member states kept at least one eye on the implementation issues that will arise from their reform proposals.

The same cannot be said about the EP's proposed amendments - if they are adopted on the 18th. Whether it is because the EP has been unable to resist the lure of top-down management, or as a result of NGO's lobbying, the 104 amendments contain a number of proposed changes that carry distinct echoes of the discredited command and control philosophy that was identified in the CFP Green Paper as the root cause of many of its failures.

Fish Stock Recovery Zones

Top of the list comes the EP's suggestion that member states should be obliged to establish Fish Stock Recovery Zones which“will amount to at least 10% of territorial waters in each Member State”. Leaving aside whether it is actually intended that these should apply, as stated, only to waters within each member states’ 12 mile limit, you can be sure that this has not been inserted by consulting with any bona fide fisheries scientists. Put bluntly and in general terms, there are many other instruments in the fisheries management toolbox that can be used to rebuild fish stocks in our temperate waters that are more effective than closed areas, and which don't carry the same dangerous displacement consequences in both socio-economic and ecological terms. Besides, this poorly thought through suggestion would cut across everything that is being done to set up a network of marine protected areas for habitat protection purposes, although it is suggested that they could incorporate existing closed areas. If an area is to be closed for fisheries management purposes (and there are some occasions when this is the right thing to do) it should be with a clear objective in mind, rather than compliance with a random notion that closing an area to meet an arbitrary and spurious percentage target is a "good idea that might do some good."

Further Faster: MSY

Many of the proposed amendments are of the further, faster variety of which we have had cause to criticise for naivety in the past. We can see this too in the compromise text in the approach to maximum sustainable yield although, to be fair, the compromise amendments do recognise the problem of blindly applying the MSY doctrine in mixed fisheries. There is an escape clause designed to prevent exhaustion of a minor TAC becoming a choke species, although even this is hemmed in by enough caveats and qualifications to make one wonder if it wouldn’t be a hostage to fortune in terms of practical quota management. Choke species could vary even within the quota year:

“(5d) Management decisions relating to MSY in mixed fisheries shall take into account the difficulty of fishing all stocks in a mixed fishery at maximum sustainable yield at the same time, if scientific advice indicates that increases in selectivity to avoid choke species are very difficult to achieve. ICES and STECF should be requested to provide advice on the appropriate levels in such circumstances.”

Management Plans

The deadlock between the EP and the Council over who has competence over the content of TAC-setting aspects of long term management plans, colours the EP amendments. In general and as feared the Parliament wants detailed control over specific targets and timetables within management plans. The lessons of the disastrous EU Cod Management Plan have apparently not been learned.

More than anything, the attempt to micro-manage specific fisheries through a formulaic remote control will - if adopted - undermine effective regionalisation and decentralisation of the CFP.

Small Scale Fisheries

The EP proposals pay vague lip service to the small-scale fisheries sector - but in such general terms that it amounts to an expression of goodwill and little more. This is not unexpected given the difficulties in arriving at a meaningful European level definition of small scale fisheries because of their sheer variety member state to member state and fishery to fishery.

If the EP proposal is taken at face value, and it is suggesting that fish restocking areas apply to territorial waters (i.e. inside the 12 mile limit), it will mean that it is this very section of the fleet that will feel the impact of losing 10% of its fishing grounds by 2020. This would have huge displacement effects.

Discard Ban

The compromise amendments would extend a discard ban to “all harvested and regulated species”, ensuring that it would be unworkable in practice and going well beyond even the Commission Proposal.

Nothing is clearer than that the CFP reform will contain something that will be able to be sold to the public as a “discard ban”. But equally, anyone who has an understanding of the issue appreciates there is a great distance between statements of broad political ambition and the realities of systematically reducing discards across many different fisheries, many different species, and different drivers for discards. Norway, the usual exemplar in terms of a discard ban does provide the flexibilities that make a ban workable at the fisheries level, and took 20 years to gradually extend it to the main target species. The scope for generating perverse outcomes through the type of remote control legislation advanced in the Parliament’s compromise amendments is legendary but doesn’t seem to have put the Parliament off making the attempt.


The EP seeks to apply a mandatory obligation on member states to identify and eliminate fleet overcapacity, leaving the method of reduction in the member state’s hands. Good luck to the Parliament in persuading member states on that one in these financially straitened times.

Tradable Fishing Concessions

Like the Commission, the EP is meddling with how quota management rules should be applied within the member states, without the faintest idea about what is involved. The member states have made quite clear that this is a non-starter- a template for quota management applied from above at the European level is a recipe for rigidity and would be a move into deeper centralisation; to move in a contrary direction to the rest of the reform.


The political signals that have been sent out by the compromise amendments are not encouraging. They suggest a Parliament wedded to top-down control and micro-management, with lip service to regionalisation and small-scale fisheries. They reflect, to an unhealthy degree the influence and priorities of a well intentioned but naive green lobby. If the lessons of the last 20 years have not been learnt, it will be both fish and fishermen that pay the price through the maintenance of a centralised and therefore dysfunctional CFP. In this event the European Parliament will be part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Co-decision means that the status quo in decision-making no-longer applies: major decisions will take longer, mistakes will take longer to rectify, even when the European institutions are not at war with each other. All this suggests that a more flexible, adaptive and responsive decision-making framework is urgently required, with room to manoeuvre at fisheries level. The European Parliament’s compromise amendments would make the reformed CFP unworkable and it would take a further reform in 10 years time to undo the damage.

The Parliament’s role in the new CFP should be to help set standards and principles for good governance of our fisheries and to provide oversight. The signs are that with the encouragement of the greens, they have merely substituted themselves as the new micro-managers.