NFFO Speech on CFP Reform

11th June 2009 in Europe / Common Fisheries Policy

The NFFO recently shared a platform with European Fisheries Commissioner, Joe Borg at an event organised by the influential European Policy Centre. The speech is reproduced below.

European Policy Centre - Brussels 16th June 2009

Commissioner, Ladies and Gentlemen, Good Morning.

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy

My task is to provide a perspective on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy specifically from a fishing industry perspective.

My view is that the Green Paper will, in time, come to be seen as a landmark document. It marks a turning-point where the European Union at least started to break with the highly-centralised, command and control model of governance in fisheries that, let’s be honest, has brought the CFP and the European Union into some disrepute.

Perhaps the tipping point however, was before this: in the highly critical Court of Auditor’s report. This report signalled that the CFP was, in effect, dysfunctional. It was an uncomfortable, even damning, report that revealed, to a general audience, that the costs of managing European fisheries outweighs the revenue generated by the fishing industry It is this irrationality that ensures that change will come. This will be the driver; even more so as public finances have to deal with the financial consequences of the recession.

The Commission’s response to that report I think is illustrative of the dilemma of the CFP as a whole: In the short term, in its moves to reinforce the Control Regulation, the Commission has, defensively, reached for the familiar armoury of command and control instruments: tighter central control here; more stringent measures there. This certainly gives the impression of action and dealing with the problem, but our experience tells us that this approach simply perpetuates the central features of the CFP (remoteness, blunt measures) that have failed and require reform.

On the other hand, beyond immediate reactions to short term pressures and very encouragingly, the Green Paper contains the seeds of an approach that if nourished could lead to a radical and positive transformation of the CFP.

The essential ingredients of a reformed CFP have, in truth been around for some time – a decentralisation and rescaling of the CFP: a transfer of decision making responsibilities (within an overarching framework of principles and standards) from the centre to the regions and to the fishing industry itself. These ideas have been around for a while- but it is the Court of Auditors report that ensures that this time these ideas will have momentum.So what will the reformed CFP look like?

The short answer is, of course, that we don’t know because the new CFP will emerge out of the Commission’s proposal, and the negotiations and decisions by the Commission, Council of Ministers and perhaps the European Parliament, over the next 12 or 18 months. Certainly, this is not a great deal of time to define and refine the institutional arrangements that will replace the present decision making process. We need to make good use of that time.

In general terms however the CFP that I would like to see has three clear features:

  • An overarching and guiding set of principles agreed and laid down at the broad European level. These should be clear principles and standards but emphatically, should avoid any hint of detailed prescription.
  • A transfer of decision-making authority, within this framework, from the Commission and Council to regional management bodies on which the fishing industry will sit, along with representatives from the member states. The central role of this body will not be as a mini-Council of ministers but to define the terms of long term management plans.
  • The most radical change will be the replacement of the current dysfunctional system micro-management, which at present often results in the creation of perverse incentives that systematically undermine management objectives. In its place fishing industry organisations –producer organisations or other collectivities of fishermen – would be given responsibility to produce and submit management plans for say 3 or 5 years. These would detail how the fishing enterprises within that group will operate sustainably and profitably, in conformity with the principles and standards laid down at European level.


It is worth focusing on this last feature because it will be the mechanism for delivering the transformation away from micro-management to a high degree of self management.

  • Industry plans would be developed with the involvement of scientists, working collaboratively
  • Each plan would require formal approval
  • The plans would be subject to periodic audit
  • The industry would be responsible for demonstrating that it is doing what it said it would do in its plan.

The present CFP suffers from a failure of governance: this alternative arrangement would allow us to scrap the incredibly large and complex set of detailed and frequently dysfunctional, technical rules that have grown up under the present CFP. It would involve a reversal of the burden of proof in fisheries.


There is much in the Green Paper that I haven’t touched on. For me the central issue of how to reform the CFP lies with the question of governance. The 2002 reform created the RACs, which have demonstrated a maturity and depth and ability of stakeholders to work together that have surpassed most expectations.

It is time now to move to the next stage: to replace the rather Victorian idea of a central, remote, all-powerful and all knowing authority figure by a model in which the fishing industry takes a high degree of responsibility for itself and its activities.

All of this involves the most profound process of change. Whilst our commitment to this change should not be in doubt, equally we should not underestimate the obstacles to its full achievement. Good ideas have often failed through poor implementation and it is therefore essential that during the next few months a great deal of thought is given to how the fishing industry can be supported during this transition and to make this transformation.