At the Fisheries Council meeting yesterday, EU Ministers spoke out in support of a discard ban despite a concerted effort by France and Spain to get rid of the proposal in the ongoing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Ministers also took the first formal step of agreement on aspects of the CFP reform by adopting conclusions on the external dimension.

At the Fisheries Council meeting yesterday, EU Ministers spoke out in support of a discard ban despite a concerted effort by France and Spain to get rid of the proposal in the ongoing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Ministers also took the first formal step of agreement on aspects of the CFP reform by adopting conclusions on the external dimension.

The March Fisheries Council meeting provided the first opportunity for Ministers to debate on different aspects of the proposal for a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Besides a discard ban and the external dimension, a new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and a regulation on the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products were discussed. In addition the fisheries ministers discussed changes in existing legislation to bring an end to shark finning.

The discard debate showed a general consensus that a solution needs to be found to the widespread wasteful practice of throwing freshly caught fish back into the sea. While France and Spain had prepared a declaration that would bring an end to the proposed discard ban, this was not mentioned at the meeting, probably as a result of over 135,000 tweets in support of a ban that the EU fisheries ministers had received over the preceding weekend. This set the tone at the meeting, where the willingness of Commissioner Damanaki to listen to Member States and move from a species approach to a fishery-based approach was greeted with a general support for the ban by a majority of the Member States, as long as a flexible, stepwise approach was used. Many Member States highlighted the need to improve selectivity, the need to avoid creating a market for undersized, juvenile fish and the need for an exception for species with high survival rates.

ONE RULE FOR ALL?

On the external dimension of the CFP, the council adopted conclusions applying the same rules for fishing in EU waters and external waters, while respecting human rights. This means that EU vessels fishing under bilateral agreements are only allowed to fish the amount that still can be fished sustainably after the local fishermen have had their share. In addition, it was decided that agreements could be suspended if human rights are violated.

While the Council conclusions on the external dimension are a definite move in the right direction, developmental NGOs are particularly concerned about the wording under section 7, which sets out a possibility for provisional rights to continue fishing activities once an agreement or protocol has expired.

FISHING FUNDS

Regarding a new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, a group of Member States presented a joint declaration that called for enhanced support for aquaculture enterprises. Additionally, some Member States reiterated their claim to continue financial support for renewal of fleets. Seas At Risk opposes such continuation of support which is clearly at odds with the aim to reduce overcapacity of fleets.

On the common organisation of the markets in fishery and aquaculture products, Member States agreed that improving consumer information is a key element of the proposal as well as the importance of a level playing field with third countries, while there was debate about whether market measures should be applied in case of a crisis.

Finally, the Council adopted an approach to support the landing of sharks with their fins attached, thereby closing a loophole that despite the prohibition of shark finning since 2003 allowed processing on board and landing fins and carcasses separately by special fishing permits.