Ministers back EU fisheries reform plans

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EU fisheries ministers yesterday asked the Commission to “kick-start preparations immediately” for widespread reform of the Union’s fisheries policy. Meanwhile environmental groups repeated calls for bloc’s fleet to be reduced in size.

Earlier this month, Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg announced plans to “fully review” the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) because “it does not encourage responsible behaviour by either fishermen or politicians” in its current form (EURACTIV 18/09/08). The reform, which will focus on resource conservation and fleet policy, is scheduled for completion by 2012. 

Ministers this week broadly backed the commissioner’s proposals, launching a debate that will also involve industry and other stakeholders and continue into 2009. They were meeting informally on the sidelines of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council (29-30 September) at the request of the French EU Presidency.

Welcoming governments’ support, Borg told ministers that “an economically, socially and environmentally healthy fishing industry depends on healthy fish stocks and on fishing fleets being in balance with their fishing opportunities”. “Ecological sustainability is therefore fundamental,” he explained. 

But some EU governments do not want reform to go as far as the Commission is suggesting, with France in particular arguing that discussions should move away from overcapacity and focus on the modification of existing quotas rather than their abolition. “We can’t reform any policy without [the support of] industry, nor by opposing it, so we have to do it with [fishermen], by taking the time to listen to them as well as the environmentalists and scientists,” said French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier, according to press reports.    

However, the Pew Environment Group argues that substantial reductions in the fishing capacity of the EU fleet are still “urgently needed”. “The existing overcapacity of fishing vessels” and member states’ “reluctance” to match fleet sizes to the fishing opportunities available is a “principal driver” of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which “inevitably leads to unprofitable fishing operations and greater incentives to bend or break the rules,” said Uta Bellion, EU marine programme director at Pew. 

Nevertheless, the NGO welcomed the adoption by ministers of a regulation to prevent IUU fishing in EU waters. “We commend the Council for taking this first step in tackling the scourge that is IUU fishing,” said Bellion. But “given that 40%” of fishing in the bloc’s waters is “estimated to be IUU”, she expects the Commission to put forward proposals for an EU control and enforcement regulation, calling on the Council to support her demands. 

Meanwhile, ministers called on the Commission to “develop the ecosystem approach to management of the marine environment,” backing a communication from EU executive on the matter. They also discussed the EU executive’s proposed cod recovery plan, which they aim to adopt at their November Council meeting. 

For its part, the Commission will produce a Green Paper early next year to trigger the public debate, while a summary of the consultation will be published at the beginning of 2010. This would allow the EU executive to table reform proposals by the end of that year with a view to their entry into force in 2012. 

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