EU Common Fisheries Policy: managing collapse
Today, around 75% of fish stocks in the EU are overfished -a result of an extremely poor fisheries management in the EU including setting the fishing quotas too high and not allowing fish to grow and reproduce at natural levels; discarding fish overboard and using taxpayer’s money to invest in vessels leading to overcapacity.
In July 2011 the European Commission published its proposal for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) Reform, which will be the key instrument for delivering on the target 4 of the EU Biodiversity Strategy. On the positive side, the proposal includes a strong objective of stock recovery beyond the MSY levels, but overall it lacks the ambition, the urgency and concrete means needed to tackle the dire situation of European fish stocks and marine ecosystems. The proposal lacks a credible plan for reducing over-capacity and does not include sufficient incentives (for example in the form of preferential access to fisheries resources) to promote low impact and sustainable fisheries.
The ball is now in the hands of the European Parliament and the European Council and early indications show that the European Parliament will seek to support and strengthen the European Commission proposal. In June 2012, however, EU Fisheries Ministers at the Council agreed a less ambitious compromise position, allowing deadlines for reaching MSY levels and phasing out discards to be extended beyond 2015, continuing the trend of most EU Member States to defend the short-term interests of a handful of businesses at the expense of the long-term future of fish and fisheries in Europe.
It can though be appreciated that the European Parliament seeks to strengthen the links between the CFP and environmental legislation, namely the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD) and the Birds and Habitats Directives. It is concerning, therefore, that early consultations from EU Member States on the MSFD are not setting ambitious targets for fisheries. (Target setting under the MSFD).
Next to the CFP regulation, the new European Commission proposal for European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) published in December 2011 will be a key instrument to support the Marine biodiversity target. The proposal includes opportunities for supporting sustainable fisheries, including the participation of fishermen in the protection and restoration of marine biodiversity and ecosystems, such as collection of marine litter, management, restoration and monitoring of Natura 2000 sites and of other Marine Protected Areas as well as measures aiming to reduce the impact of fisheries on marine ecosystems, such as by-catch. However, these opportunities will become good news for marine ecosystems only if EU Member States include them in their operational programmes and back them up with adequate funding.