The bewildering change of political fortunes over the last few weeks prompts the fair…
The Emerging Technical Conservation Regime
The main EU instrument governing the rules on technical conservation is a regulation dating back to 1998. (EU 850/98). Arguably this regulation required root and branch revision the day after it was published. It has required multiple amendments and based as it is on the concept of matching each mesh size category to catch compositions it has been responsible for the regulatory discards which arose as a consequence. It has certainly set a benchmark in complexity, and perverse consequences.
In any event, after many false starts, the signs are that the Commission’s proposal for a new technical conservation framework regulation will shortly see the light of day.
The description of the regulation as a framework is significant because the idea is that, over time, the new Regulation will provide for regionally distinct technical measures, developed for each sea basin by member states working collaboratively. In that sense this regulation will be very different from its predecessor and represents something of a shift away in concept from centralised top-down control and micro-management.
The soon-to-be-replaced regulation amounts to a series of “thou shalt not” rules. By contrast, the new framework regulation will aim to be a vehicle for:
- Compatibility with the landings obligation
- Deletion of a number of ruled where they are no longer justified
The aim is that the new regulation will be about managing the transition to a new era in fisheries management in which regionalisation and the landings obligation take centre stage, along with multi-annual management plans. Leaving aside, for the moment, the potentially massive issue of chokes in mixed fisheries, the logic of the landings obligation will mean that there will be a very strong economic incentive for vessels to reduce unwanted catch to a minimum. In its purest form this should mean that no rules on gear selectivity or minimum conservation sizes will be necessary - so long as there is confidence that all catches of quota species are recorded and count against quota.
But pending regionalisation and a fully operational landings obligation, the Commission wants to see a number of baseline technical measures retained as a kind of safety net.
Coverage: the new regulation will cover all EU waters and will also apply to EU vessels operating in NEAFC waters and in the Mediterranean.
Objectives: The objective of the regulation will be linked to a number of measurable targets. What these targets will mean in practice is unclear as yet.
Common measures: A number of measures to protect seabirds, cetaceans and vulnerable habitats will be included, along with scope to include provisions on the construction of fishing gears, if necessary, through delegated act
Drift nets: The proposed blanket ban on drift nets has been withdrawn and replaced with scope for regionally specific measures, where justified
Regionalisation: There will be scope for a regional annex for each sea basin. Regional measures will have to meet certain objectives and targets linked to the CFP; there will be a number of default measures for each sea basin which for the most part align with the current status quo.
Nature Conservation: Where regional member states wish to go further that the basic levels of protection for sensitive habitats etc.
Technical Rules: including repeal of redundant regulations, no catch composition rules; baseline mesh sizes; minimum conservation reference sizes
The new proposal is currently in inter-service consultations but it is expected that it will be adopted by the College of Commissioners shortly. A period of consultation will follow with the new regime coming into force in around 18 months. It is to be hoped that the European Parliament is not tempted to add layers of complexity to the new regulation as it passes through the co-decision process. The one thing that we have learned, above all others, from past mistakes is that in the area of technical conservation, top-down blanket measures rarely make sense at the level of individual fishery.