Round Table meeting with Commissioner Damanaki

4th October 2010 in Marine Planning and Licensing

European Commissioner Maria Damanaki heard recently from a range of marine interests on the need for an approach to marine spatial planning that strikes the right balance between coordinating competing offshore activities, whilst at the same time avoiding adding further complex layers of bureaucracy.

It was clear that she saw the arrival of marine spatial planning as vital but difficult, and beset by jurisdictional issues between the Commission and member states. The venue was a meeting in Aberdeen, organised by the North Sea Commission, a body of local government bodies around the North Sea, and builds on the successful conference held in Newcastle earlier in the year on the issue of how best to manage increasingly crowded marine space.

The Commissioner indicated that her ambition was for a European Directive that would provide a framework for marine planning that left the responsibility for implementation with the member states.

The Federation took the opportunity to underlines that whilst it recognised the importance of marine spatial planning as a necessary antidote to the increasingly chaotic morass of marine protected areas, offshore wind farms, aggregate dredging, and other offshore developments that increasingly jeopardise fishing vessels’ access to their customary grounds, it was also important to avoid a further layer of top-down, prescriptive, bureaucracy.

The NFFO also stressed that the fishing industry in defending its key fishing areas, recognised the rights of other marine users and there were already examples of good and bad practice which should be taken into account in establishing marine spatial planning.

An example of good practice quoted is the strong cooperative relationship between the offshore oil and gas industry and the fishing industry. In England, and a little later in Scotland, a very successful model of liaison and cooperation had been developed between the two sectors that had stood the test of time over 20 years and had managed the inevitable frictions between two marine industries with different operational patterns and requirements.

Attention was also drawn to counter-examples of bad practice, currently evident in the headlong rush to establish marine protected areas on the basis of inadequate evidence and cosmetic consultation. Likewise, putting a Round 2 wind-farm (Westernmost Rough) on top of the most lucrative lobster grounds in the country speaks volumes about the absence of a coherent marine spatial planning process.

The lessons to be drawn from this are:

  • There is a need for marine spatial planning to coordinate increasingly crowded marine space
  • What is not required, and wouldn’t work anyway given the different jurisdictional issues, is a top-down bureaucratic structure.
  • There are examples of existing good practice that should be incorporated into spatial marine planning
  • Likewise, there are examples of bad practice where offshore developments have been sanctioned on the basis of inadequate information and cosmetic consultation
  • Much can be achieved by a framework that obliges the various offshore interests to talk to each other; communication is the key to resolving many of the issues of marine spatial planning

The first step to establish a forum in which the various stakeholders can engage with each other has been taken in the earlier Newcastle conference and it was clear from the Aberdeen meeting that Commissioner Damanaki considered this to be an advanced model that could be emulated elsewhere. Even in these financially straitened times it was clear that the Commissioner would support applications for funding that would make a North Sea Stakeholders’ forum become a reality.

Fishing

Various interests, from port authorities to local government, underlined the importance of fishing to local economies and employment and the nation’s food security.

Commissioner Damanaki made reference to the Commission’s current thinking on a reformed CFP.

Regional advisory councils had been one of the successes of the 2002 reform of the CFP and according to the Commissioner it was now time for a “new synthesis”. Some change to the composition of RACs seemed to be implied, although there has been no previous indication of this and certainly no discussion with the RACs on what this might mean. What would bring the RAC’s effectiveness into rapid decline would be to make them so unwieldy as to make the formulation of coherent advice all but impossible.

The Commissioner described a two tier form of fisheries governance in which

  • broad principles and targets( including target levels of fishing mortality would be laid down at European level
  • “member states and RACs would be able to choose from a toolbox which instruments to use to achieve those targets: TACs, effort control, technical measures etc”

All commercial fish stocks should come under long term management plans.

In the Commissioner’s view this approach should be subject to the important condition that there should be a progressive reduction in discards.

The NFFO, as it has done from the outset of the CFP reform process, will remain at the heart of the debate on the future of the CFP, within the RACs and directly with UK ministers and officials, and with the European Parliament.