CFP Reform: Froth vs. Substance

13th June 2013 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

A clearer idea of the substance of the reformed CFP emerging from the final stages of agreement in Brussels is surfacing as the dust settles and the details clarify.

The final text is of course a compromise between the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament and sometimes exhibits the lack of coherence that comes with that territory.


All now depends on the enthusiasm and diligence of the main players, but there is now a legal framework for much of the content of fisheries management in the future to be undertaken at regional seas level, with relevant member states working closely with the advisory councils. This is the keystone of the reform, from our perspective.

Maximum Sustainable Yield

Mandatory MSY targets are set in terms of fishing mortality with biomass targets aspirational. This makes sense in terms of the biological realities. There is also recognition of the potential for problems with "choke species" that could prevent uptake of the quotas main economic stocks.


A landings obligation will impose major transitional stresses on many parts of the industry. Much now depends on whether the legislative changes that provide the industry with flexibility to operate viably within the context of a landings obligation are enacted. For example, scope to return to the sea species with high survival rates is a critical issue both in terms of overall mortality rates and industry practicalities.


Member states retain their prerogative to allocate quota as they consider appropriate, with some additional reporting requirements on the criteria used (economic, social, environmental).

Fish Recovery Zones

Optional provisions to use closed areas for stock rebuilding purposes are included but it is difficult to see this as a change of any substance, given the caveats and qualifications with which the provision is surrounded. Closed areas should be a management tool when they make sense, not presented dishonestly as a kind of magic wand to wave to solve all problems.


More detail will doubtless emerge but the overall shape of the reform is now becoming clearer.

It is important however, to remind ourselves that in fisheries management, the law of unintended consequences is never far away and that legislation is one thing and successful implementation is something else. In this context, the arrival of a significant element of regional control over the substance of fisheries management is vitally important. Hopefully there will now be scope to adapt to changing circumstances more rapidly than the old discredited form of centralised control through blanket measures.

Time will tell.