European Fisheries Ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss the Commission Communication on Fishing Opportunities 2011 and the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

European Fisheries Ministers met in Luxembourg to discuss the Commission Communication on Fishing Opportunities 2011 and the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The Commission Communication on fishing opportunities 2011 describes the approach the Commission will take when developing its proposal on total allowable catches (TAC) and quotas for 2011 once the scientific advice is published. According to the chair of the Council meeting, Spanish Fisheries Minister Espinosa, the Communication is built on seven pillars of guidelines, including the need 1) to base all decisions on scientific advice, 2) to apply the precautionary approach and 3) to comply with international undertakings, including the EU commitment to reach maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for all stocks by 2015, in line with (2002 Johannesburg World Sustainable Development Summit). Fisheries Commissioner Damanaki stressed that the Commission would strictly follow scientific advice and would not give in to requests for catching possibilities that exceeded scientific advice in the December Council. She insisted that fisheries at current level are not sustainable, arguing that levels of fishing and vessels had to be decreased to achieve MSY by 2015. Whilst the Communication reflects the Commission’s commitment of meeting the Johannesburg targets by ensuring that all stocks are exploited at MSY by 2015, achievement of this goal nevertheless risks being hampered as many delegations, although acknowledging the need to preserve stocks, criticized the Commission’s suggestion to reduce quotas for certain categories of fish when scientific advice is lacking, with six delegations insisting that catch limits should be kept at the same level as in the previous year for stocks with insufficient data. Some delegations criticized the availability of scientific data.
Indeed, the increase of data deficiency is particularly concerning. Whilst the new determination of the Commission to meet the Johannesburg target is positive, MSY should not be considered the ultimate target, but only constitute an intermediate target for stocks that are overfished. More precautionary targets, such as Maximum Economic Yield (MEY) should already be considered for stocks that are close to or at MSY today.

Commissioner Damanaki maintained that radical reform of the CFP is needed if fish stocks are to be preserved. Amongst others she insisted that micromanagement from Brussels had to end and highlighted the importance of regionalization in fisheries management. She insisted that the new system should include a mixture of individual transferable rights (ITRs) and effort management. France, Germany and Poland issued a text expressing their opposition to ITRs and claimed that national quotas should be kept as the main system. The Commissioner and the chair announced that the CFP reform will continue to be discussed under the Belgian Presidency and that the Commission will table a legislative proposal on the CFP reform in summer 2011.
It is unlikely that ITRs and/or the current quota system will lead to sustainable fisheries alone. Ideally, the current quota allocation system will be gradually phased out. Future access to fish resources should be based on a set of transparent criteria for environmentally and socially sustainable practices, providing priority access for fishing operators who most contribute to achieving the overarching objectives of the CFP.

During the meeting, ministers also adopted a regulation for a new catch documentation programme for bluefin tuna, which amends the previous EU system for the statistical monitoring of trade in bluefin tuna, swordfish and bigeye tuna by incorporating conservation and management measures previously adopted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). In addition, the Commission presented information on the delays in the implementation of the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) by Member States, which was said to result in a low level of payment application. The Irish delegation raised its concerns about the current mackerel management. It claimed that mackerel management was “endangered” due to the lack of agreement on the management of shared stocks between the European Union on the one hand and Iceland and the Faroe Islands on the other, as Iceland and the Faroe Islands had “unilaterally set high quotas on this fish”. Other member states confirmed this statement, whilst the Commission announced that it would “stand firm on the negotiations with Iceland and Faroe Islands”. Over lunch Ministers had an informal discussion on the future of the Common Market Organisation for fisheries.

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