‘UK has the fish, but Europe has the market’, fisheries committee chair says

On Wednesday (19 February), French MEP Pierre Karleskind was elected chair of European Parliament's fisheries committee by acclamation. [VANDEVEL/EP]

In his first interview as the new chair of the parliamentary committee on fisheries (PECH), the Renew Europe MEP Pierre Karleskind called for a fisheries agreement with the UK that recreates the current situation whereby EU fishermen can have access to British waters and UK seafood can be sold on the Single Market.

By a curious quirk of fate, a lawmaker coming from France’s Brittany, one of the European regions closest to the UK, has replaced the former British MEP, Chris Davies, as chair of a parliamentary committee dealing with one of the hottest Brexit topics: fisheries.

Although the European Commission is in charge of the Brexit negotiations, Karleskind pointed out that the European Parliament will have the last word by giving the final go-ahead to the agreements on different topics that the EU and the UK will sign.

“When it comes to fisheries, the closer [to the current situation] it is, the better it is for us,” Karleskind told EURACTIV, referring to the fact that at the moment there is reciprocal access to UK waters for European fishermen and to the common market for British seafood products.

He also recognised that although the EU is often seen as the weaker side in the Brexit fisheries negotiations, it would be useless for British trawlers to fish in a sea abundant with fish if they can’t sell it on the continent.

“It is really important to bear in mind that the UK has fish, but Europe has the market,” he said, adding that the existence of mutual benefits from the status quo should be used as a tool during the negotiations.

Another thing the EU should ensure is that the UK will maintain its commitment to the sustainable management of fish stocks. However, he also doesn’t think it is in the UK’s interest to erase the efforts that have been done in this field.

“Many things have been done in the past years on sustainable fisheries through the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and now stocks are in a healthier condition almost everywhere,” he said. Fishing too much in a neighbouring area could pose a danger also to the European fisheries sector as “fish don’t have borders.”

Brexit is particularly dear topic to Karleskind and he showed solidarity with Breton fishermen who asked the Commission to ensure that they get access to the British waters after Brexit.

Breton fishermen fear being shut out of British waters after Brexit

Fishermen from France’s Brittany region have asked the European Commission to address the uncertainty caused by Brexit for the fisheries sector, ensuring access by European fishermen to fish in British waters.

Ocean and science

An oceanographer with a strong background in maritime affairs, Karleskind had a lightning start in the European Parliament despite being a newcomer, as he was first appointed as vice-chair at the Internal Market Committee and as Renew Europe’s group coordinator in PECH.

According to Karleskind, the topic of the ocean is not easy to raise in the European parliament as it is not assigned to any specific committee. For instance, the Integrated maritime policy (IMP) is covered by several committees, such as transports (TRAN), environment (ENVI), industry (ITRE) and, of course, fisheries (PECH).

“The commission is right now negotiating at the UN level on the ocean global governance, but it is really important that the Parliament has its say on it too,” he added.

Karleskind also supported the initiative of his political group Renew Europe, which has asked the Commission to ensure that the Green Deal could also be a Blue Deal, including the topic of Ocean conservation.

Vella: EU leadership on oceans governance is a priority for my successor

The EU’s outgoing Fisheries Commissioner, Karmenu Vella, warned that climate change and biodiversity loss were putting the earth’s ecosystems dangerously close to a tipping point, and pleaded for his successor to carry on the International Ocean Governance (IOG) put in place during his five-year mandate.

Policymakers are often criticised by scientists for not taking into account scientific advice when it comes to deciding quotas. In this sense, his twofold nature as policymaker and man of science put Karleskind in a difficult position.

“I’ve been a policymaker for more than 10 years now and I’m still really convinced that we should try to deliver science-based policy,” he said.

“But the fact is that science is not able to answer all the questions we have as policymakers,” he added.

For him, sometimes it is because of a lack of knowledge on some species but sometimes it also because political decisions don’t focus only on the recovering of the stocks, but also on the lives of coastal communities or affordable seafood for consumers.

“That is why I try to mix what I know from science and what I see is fair for creating jobs or for giving food for people,” he said.

CFP assessment

Karleskind will also continue the path started by his predecessor Chris Davies in dealing with the topic of ensuring fisheries sustainability in the context of climate change and the biodiversity crisis.

But he also wants to make sure that the PECH committee starts a clear evaluation of how CFP was implemented and in particular if it will still be efficient to address the challenges Europe will face in the next decade.

The Commission is expected to conduct by 2022 an evaluation of the main achievements of the reformed CFP in terms of the social dimension, climate adaptation and clean oceans.

“Of course, the evaluation of the Commission will be important, but it is still the point of view of the institution directly concerned,” he added.

Other topics such as marine litter or the implementation of the landing obligation regulation will also be evaluated by the fisheries committee through own-initiative reports, Karleskind anticipated.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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