UK Takes Stance Against Blanket Drift Net Ban

13th June 2014 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The UK has made clear that it will throw its weight behind opposition to the proposed EU ban on drift nets. Defra, following consultations with the devolved administrations, has made it clear in a consultative letter that it would be unacceptable to extinguish small scale drift net fisheries in the UK, many of which hold impeccable conservation credentials and which provide an important component in inshore fishermen's annual income. The UK approach is that where a specific problem of unacceptable bycatch is identified specific measures should be taken to address the issue.

“the proposal does not readily relate to UK driftnet fisheries targeting herring, bass, salmon and other species. These represent an important part of the fishing year and livelihoods of relevant inshore fishermen and, most significantly, do not have the serious by-catch or enforcement issues that the Commission is trying to address.”

The UK’s stance is important, as the likelihood of the Commission withdrawing the proposal, despite the inadequate consultations which preceded it, are close to zero. The signs are that this is another high profile initiative driven by Commissioner Damakaki and that the Commission will remain inflexible. The focus will therefore shift to the co-decision process and specifically the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. The UK along with France will form the nucleus of an opposition pressing for amendments that would permit the survival of our small-scale drift net fisheries.

The full text of the Defra consultative letter reads as follows:

Dear all

European Commission proposal to prohibit all EU driftnet fishing

As many of you will be aware, the European Commission proposes a full prohibition on the taking on board or use of any kind of driftnet in EU waters, as well as applying a more detailed definition of driftnets with the aim of closing loopholes encountered with enforcement of the current legislation (mainly in the Mediterranean). The proposed prohibition is intended to apply from 1 January 2015, subject to agreement with Member States and the European Parliament.

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-14-563_en.htm (Commission proposal press release)

The Defra position will be supportive of adequate measures to address the enforcement of the current prohibition on driftnet fishing for highly migratory species where this has been a problem, such as in the Mediterranean.

But Defra is very aware that the Commission’s problem definition underpinning the proposal does not readily relate to UK driftnet fisheries targeting herring, bass, salmon and other species. These represent an important part of the fishing year and livelihoods of relevant inshore fishermen and, most significantly, do not have the serious by-catch or enforcement issues that the Commission is trying to address. Our liaison with the Devolved Administrations indicates this view is representative of a UK position.

Rather than the proposed blanket EU measures, therefore, the UK negotiating position on this proposal will be to seek alternatives such as the application of a risk-based regional approach, particularly in waters around the UK – the North Sea, Channel, and Western waters – an approach which will ensure that the right fisheries are monitored and required to take appropriate mitigation action where needed.

This approach is in line with the existing requirements of the EU cetacean by-catch regulation (812/2004) which targets controls on bottom set gill and entanglement nets in ICES Areas IV (North Sea) and VII (western waters), which is where the related by-catch has more typically been an issue in these areas, rather than driftnets, particularly in consideration of the way driftnets are typically deployed and attended in UK waters. We consider a ban of any kind is inappropriate in the context of our UK driftnet fisheries.

The next step is for Member States to make representations in Council working group in Brussels – where we anticipate discussions will probably commence from July onwards.

In the meantime we would welcome any comments or views on our intended approach in responding to this proposal as described above, or any additional perspective you can offer to inform our position. These should be returned to the above mailbox address - Marine.CommonFisheries@defra.gsi.gov.uk - for the attention of my colleague Iain Glasgow – such views would be most helpful before the end of June.