NFFO believes “regionalisation” is the key CFP reform agreed at Council of Ministers meeting

The National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations (NFFO) comments, 15th May: “The agreement reached by the Council of Ministers in Brussels in the early hours of 15th May represents an important staging post on the tortuous passage to CFP reform. The agreed form of words gives the Irish Presidency a mandate to finalise negotiations with the European Parliament on the final shape of the reform package. Unless the European Parliament creates new obstacles, there could be a political agreement on the reform within days, although the formal legal text could take a further three months to finalise.

“The Council endgame focused on two items which the Parliament, under enormous lobbying pressure from the green NGOs, had picked out as signifiers for the depth of the reform: Biomassbiomass The amount of living matter. This is therefore a different measure to numbers of organisms. So, for example, there is much more biomass in 1 elephant than there is in 1000 fleas and there may be more biomass in 100 large cod than you would find in 150 small (because of over fishing) cod. Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) and rules to cover exemptions from the discard ban (de minimis). There was also a struggle over the provisions permitting the content of important decisions to be made at regional seas level.

“The key to the whole CFP reform lies with the shift from a top-down, centralised approach to regional decision-making, although it would be difficult to discern this from a media which has been primarily focussed on the discards issue. A shift to a decentralised and therefore more flexible and adaptable management regime is the prize now within our grasp. Much remains to be done to bring regional decisions into effect but the Council has paved the way for what may turn out to be a revolutionary change.

“The Commissioner conceded at the beginning of the Council that the Commission’s lawyers’ version of decentralisation where the Commission itself would receive additional delegated powers would not fly. The main model of regionalisation within the CFP will be that of member state co-operation at regional seas level described in the Council’s previous General Approach.

Biomass MSY
“This arcane issue became a problem for the Council when the Parliament insisted that it was not sufficient to bring fishing pressure (fishing mortality) down to levels consistent with rebuilding fish stocks to maximum sustainable yield; it would be necessary to require binding targets with timetables to ensure that MSY levels were reached.

“This is tantamount to telling nature to conform to the EU’s wishes, as many non-human factors can and do affect recruitment. The Council has quite rightly rejected this as based on biological illiteracy and has replaced it with some aspirational words. Of course, the purpose of reducing fishing mortality is to build fish stocks but the type of binding requirements wished for by the Parliament are exactly the kind of rigidity that caused so much difficulty in the EU Cod Management Plan.

Discards Ban
“It has been clear for some time that the Commission, Parliament and Council want a landings obligation, broadly similar to that operated by Norway that would lead in due course to the elimination of discards in EU fisheries. The issue for the Council was to create sufficient flexibilities to allow this to happen across a wide range of fisheries. Issues such as quota uplift, the removal of CFP rules that currently generate discards, year-end quota flexibility and counting minor species against principal quotas to remove choke stocks, all appeared to be uncontroversial.

“Heat was generated between the Council and the Parliament and within the Council itself on the issue of the de minimis – the amount of fish that fleets could continue to discard. Bearing in mind that even Norway (which first applied a landings obligation to cod in 1987 and has much simpler fisheries than the EU, with fewer species) still discards significant tonnages. The issue here is how to create a pragmatic approach that secures a dramatic reduction in discards without ham-stringing the fishing industry with unworkable rules. Time will tell whether the Council have got the balance right. Essentially, the de minimis will only come into effect if all the other discard reduction initiatives within a multi-annual management plan, or a discard plan have failed and oversight of the conditions in these circumstances have been handed to the Commission.

“If the reform package follows the lines agreed by the Council there will still be rigidities and perverse outcomes within the CFP. However the agreement, particularly with regionalisation, has built in both a safety net and means to improve the management regime over the next few years. A more adaptable CFP should mean a better CFP. Time will tell.

Source: NFFO Press Release, 15th May 2013

Marinet observes: It is not clear from the NFFO press release whether the Federation believes in the restoration of fish stocks to levels that can once again guarantee food security (the ability to meet, from our seas, all our needs for fish for the full 12 months of the year). Without this objective enshrined and committed to as a cardinal principle, neither the reformed Common Fisheries Policy nor the UK/EU fishing industry has a genuinely sustainable future. And that affects us, the public, directly because without adequate fish stocks and a fishing industry that is genuinely viable, then we will end up with no wild fish on our plates in a very short period of time – and certainly before we next have a chance to get reform of the CFP right in another ten years time (i.e. 2020) ! So these are serious matters, and we invite the NFFO to be entirely clear about them. The NFFO also needs to make clear whether it genuinely believes in a conservation-based reform of the CFP, so that fishing levels and fishing management policies are determined by what is needed to restore food security, and thus rebuild the industry in a manner that assures it of a prosperous future.

This means that the NFFO has to acknowledge whether it agrees that EU fishing subsidies, currently more than 1 billion Euros a year for the European fleet as a whole, must shift from their current focus on maintaining/expanding the fishing capacity of the fleet to a new conservation-based focus where, amongst other matters, spawning and nursery grounds are protected by means of closed areas with fishermen themselves and their vessels being employed (paid for by the subsidy fund) to patrol, manage and rebuild the stocks and thus, ultimately, rebuild the capacity of the fleet to fish and harvest sustainably. And, by this means, once again deliver food security.

Where the NFFO’s statement of belief is clearer is on the question of “regionalisation”. That is to say, the returning of management decisions to the regional level. In other words, giving UK fishermen more say in deciding when, where and how to fish – provided of course that scientific advice on fish stocks levels and safe levels of fishing is observed and recognised as being of paramount importance.

We wonder how far the NFFO’s thinking has actually gone on this question of “regionalisation” and the return of decision-making powers to the regional level? If renegotiation of the UK’s position within the EU is on the agenda – as many people and UK politicians argue – does this mean that we actually repatriate the management of fish stocks in UK seas (out to 200 nautical miles) wholly to the UK? Is this part of what renegotiation of the EU treaties means? And, is this something the NFFO would favour?

Perhaps the time has come to start addressing this question, and to begin a serious discussion of the issues.

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