This was a different kind of December Council in a number of important ways. Many delegations…
The environmental NGOs' disappointing, although not altogether surprising, response to the Council of Ministers' agreement on a 'General Approach' to CFP reform last week in Luxembourg, was that it didn't go far enough, and the timetables were insufficiently demanding.
Even the best NGOs - those who work with the industry on the regional advisory committees - succumbed to a formulaic response that could have been prepared 12 months ago, for all the relevance it had to the issues discussed and agreed in Luxembourg. For the fishing industry, this ritual demand of 'further, faster’ whatever measures are adopted, has become more than a little frustrating.
Whilst the industry and fisheries managers struggle to deal with the complex practical issues involved in reducing discards and rebuilding stocks in mixed fisheries, the NGOs' repetition of the further, faster, refrain to journalists, from their comfortable offices, is at best unhelpful. Some NGOs know perfectly well that a great deal of progress has already been made in reducing discards. They also know that whilst fisheries scientists acknowledge MSY may be a legitimate political aspiration (when suitably qualified) they also consider that it is a poor, indeed impossible, guide to practical fisheries management. All this is known but suppressed by the NGOs in the service of a punchy sound-bite that portrays fishermen as rapacious pantomime villains and ministers as hapless dupes of the all-powerful fishing lobby.
We have become used to the reduction of complex issues to these kinds of stereotypes; it happens each December when ministers set Total Allowable Catches for the coming year. It is neither accurate, fair, or truthful.
The fishing industry has had to mature and acknowledge that civil society has a legitimate say in determining the conditions under which fish are caught, landed and sold. It is now time for a new equivalent maturity and sense of responsibility in the NGOs’ public statements. Bellowing Further! Faster! and urging politicians to adopt more rigid rules and shorter timetables for implementation is part of the old discredited CFP that most of us want to now move beyond. Indeed this approach is a substantial part of the reason that so many CFP measures have failed to deliver in the past.