UK Federation's hold first meeting with Damanaki.

12th July 2010 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The NFFO and Scottish Fishermen's Federation recently held their first meeting with new EC Commissioner Maria Damanaki, in Strasbourg, in a meeting organised by British MEPs.

This was a groundbreaking meeting in two senses: an important first meeting with the Commissioner who will hold a pivotal role in shaping the future CFP, but also important collaboration between members of the European Parliament and the federations in the new era of co-decision making.

The meeting covered a wide range of issues from cod recovery; to the implications of applying maximum sustainable yield to next year’s quotas; to regional management within a reformed CFP and strategies for dealing with Iceland's attempt to lever access to the western mackerel fishery.

Commissioner Damanaki:

  • Seemed eager to decentralise decision making within a reformed CFP to regional management bodies, member states and the fishing industry. In her view the CFP had “grown up” and now was the time to delegate responsibilities to those capable and with the will to take them on
  • Was insistent that delegated responsibilities should be subject to proper safeguards and guarantees to ensure that fundamental principles and objectives were observed.
  • Suggested that a reformed CFP could be based around options through which those member states and industry organisations who wished to develop forms of regional administrative cooperation, or delegated responsibility, could do so, subject to a framework of safeguards
  • Was advised by the federations that there was an inconsistency if the Commission advocated devolved responsibilities but still envisaged retaining the power to dictate which tools in the fisheries management toolbox – TACs, effort control, technical measures should be used in any fishery
  • Appeared impressed that the two federations were heavily involved in regional advisory councils, indicating a willingness to work collaboratively with fishermen from other member states and with other stakeholders
  • Considered that a future CFP with a high level of discarding was indefensible and was, in turn, advised by the federations that although there was no simplistic "silver bullet" for reducing discards, steady progress could be made if the measures were fisheries specific and backed by the right kind of incentive structures. She was pointed to the current “catch quota” trials currently under way as a positive example of what can be achieved.
  • Was also invited to consider the high level of discards generated by poorly designed regulatory measures, including some unimaginative TAC reductions. This was likely to be intensified by an unthinking and brutal application of the MSY principle
  • Listened carefully as the industry representatives indicated that the frequent gulf between fishermen and the Commission often did not lie with ultimate objectives (which were frequently shared) but in unrealistic and often counterproductive timeframes for implementation that created short term strains on vessel viability
  • Was told that a cod recovery plan that oversaw a reduction in fishing effort, and simultaneously an increase in fishing mortality, was not fit for purpose. The Commissioner invited suggestions on a new way forward and was directed to the advice being prepared by the North Sea RAC and supported by the NWWRAC.
  • Appeared interested to be told that over the last fifteen years the UK and a number of other member states had developed successful delegated quota management systems that amounted to a tailored form of rights based management
  • Received a detailed analysis of the current state of play in the western mackerel debacle and discussed both short term tactics and longer term strategy for bringing Iceland to the negotiating table with curtailed and more realistic ambitions.
  • Was adamant that management decisions in fisheries must be based on the best available science. In the absence of sound science management would be based on political decisions, with all the implications which that would carry. She was concerned about anxieties about the robustness and reliability of ICES science and it understood that she had commissioned an "audit" of the science on which was currently used.
  • Conceded that the definition of “small-scale” fisheries could be “a little bit difficult” if applied at European level but appeared wedded to the idea of a differentiated regime.

Co-decision Making

Co-decision making under the Lisbon Treaty has brought the European Parliament into a new prominence in fisheries and it is too early to see how it will work in practice. What is clear is that MEPs and the federations recognise that there is a clear need for the fishing industry and parliamentarians to work together to ensure that fisheries legislation is effective and proportional.

The meeting with the Commissioner was organised through the good offices of Diane Dodds MEP and attended by Struan Stevenson MEP and Julie Girling MEP, and Ian Hudgeson MEP attended and contributed to the meeting. The principal focus was to facilitate a direct dialogue between the Commissioner and the principal representative organisations in the UK industry. The NFFO’s briefing note for the meeting is reproduced below:

Briefing Notes for Meeting with Commissioner Damanaki in the European Parliament 7th July 2010

CFP Reform

In broad terms we consider that the CFP’s resource policies have been dysfunctional and the primary reason for this is a failure of governance. This is why we warmly welcome a reform of the CFP reform away from the current blunt, inflexible, over-centralised, system that has proven ineffective in many respects, is costly to apply, and has lost credibility.

A decentralised CFP, with decisions made at an appropriate level- regional/ member state/ or through delegation to the industry, would offer the prospect of effective resource management with a high degree of compliance and support from fishermen. The regional advisory committees have advanced some innovative ideas on how to replace prescriptive micro-management by a system of delegated management that seem s to work well in some Australian fisheries. The vehicle that we think will deliver this kind approach is based on sustainable fishing plans developed and applied by groups of fishermen and subject to prior approval and periodic audit by the authorities.

Rights Based Management

We agree that a system of rights based management at member state level offers many advantages; however we do not consider that it is logical or desirable that in a regionalised CFP the choice of fisheries management instrument is made at European level.

Differentiated Regime

We think that the suggestion that EU fisheries should operate a differentiated regime at European level between is misguided, misinformed, and if applied, would result in chaos. Our fleets are not easily or simply divided into a crude dichotomy of large/small, inshore/offshore, artisanal/industrial. This model may apply in the Mediterranean but it certainly doesn’t apply in the UK and many other member states. Besides, the Danish experience shows what a rights based management system, sensitively applied can achieve, even for the small vessels fleets.

Effort Control

This applies also to your reported enthusiasm for effort control in mixed demersal fisheries. These are choices best made at regional level in full knowledge of local conditions not imposed from above, however well meaning the intentions.

As a matter of fact there are serious arguments against effort control:

  • It encourages over-capitalisation (what the Americans call capital stuffing
  • Restricting time at sea does not control activity or behaviour or fishing strategies when at sea, including discarding
  • Except in a very crude sense, there is only a very week relationship between fishing effort and fishing mortality

These flaws are now very evident in the present cod recovery plan, where discards broadly equal the landed catch and mortality is increasing as effort decreases.

As a result it is not fit for purpose.