Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirteenth Report


The European Scrutiny Committee has made further progress in the matter referred to it and has agreed to the following Report:—


COM(01) 135

Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy.


Report on the state of the resources and their expected development.


Report on the economic and social situation of coastal regions.


Report on the implementation of the Community system for fisheries and aquaculture over the period 1993-2000.
Legal base:
Document originated: 20 March 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 22 March 2001
Deposited in Parliament: (a) 12 April 2001
(b) - (d) 30 April 2001
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: EM of 3 May 2001
Previous Committee Report: None; but see (20955) 5051/00: HC 23-xi (1999-2000), paragraph 13 (8 March 2000)
To be discussed in Council: 18 June 2001
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: For debate in European Standing Committee A


  1.1  The current legislative basis for the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) expires at the end of 2002, and the Commission is required to produce proposals on the future of the Policy by 31 December 2001, with the Council then taking decisions during 2002. With this in mind, the Commission has for some time been canvassing views on what the arrangements from 2003 onwards should be. It has now produced in the current document a Green Paper on the subject (document (a)), accompanied by three background reports (documents (b)-(d)), on which it has asked for comments by 30 September 2001. It will then put forward by the end of this year, as required, its formal proposals for a new Common Fisheries Policy to apply from 1 January 2003.

The current document

  1.2  The Green Paper is divided into four main sections. The first sets out the basic principles of the CFP, and relevant articles of the Treaty. Although there is no specific fisheries chapter, the Commission says that the latter include:

  • Article 33, which assigns to the CFP the same general objectives as the Common Agricultural Policy, namely to ensure a fair standard of living for those in the industry, to stabilise markets, to assure the availability of supplies, to ensure that those supplies reach consumers at reasonable prices, and to ensure the principle of non-discrimination;

  • Article 6, which stipulates that environmental protection requirements must be integrated into Community policies, in particular with a view to promoting sustainable development;

  • Article 174, which requires Community policy on the environment to be based on the precautionary principle;

  • Articles 153 and 159, which respectively require the CFP also to take into account consumer protection requirements and the objectives of economic and social cohesion; and

  • Articles 177 and 178, which require the objectives of the Treaty in the sphere of development co-operation to be taken into account.

The Commission observes that a number of these objectives — such as ensuring the conservation of stocks, whilst promoting the continuation of fishing activities — may seem contradictory or incompatible, at least in the short term, and that it is now time to think more clearly about the objectives of the CFP and to prioritise them.

  1.3  The second part of the paper seeks to establish where we are now and what will happen without change, and does this by reference to a number of different headings.

— Conservation policy

  1.4  The Commission notes that quantities of mature demersal fish have in many cases declined significantly over the last 25 years, with particularly dramatic reductions in some stocks, such as cod and hake, leading to numbers being below, or very close to, the minimum levels needed to ensure sustainability if present rates of exploitation are maintained. The position is said to be better for pelagic stocks, and, where recent difficulties have occurred, as for North Sea herring, it has proved possible to implement effective rebuilding measures in contrast to the closures needed in the late 1970s. Likewise, although there is a general economic over-exploitation of flatfish, the situation at a biological level is not considered as systematically serious. The Commission summarises the position by saying that many stocks are at present outside safe biological limits, being too heavily exploited and having low quantities of mature fish, or both, and that, whilst the situation in most cases is not "catastrophic", many stocks will collapse if current trends continue.

  1.5  The Commission then analyses the causes of the current situation. It notes that the CFP has relied almost exclusively on total allowable catches (TACs) and measures such as mesh sizes, closed areas, and closed seasons, and that attempts in the past to control fishing effort have been largely unsuccessful, as have efforts to adopt multi-annual approaches. Moreover, TACs have been systematically been set at levels higher than indicated in the scientific advice, with the difficulties being exacerbated by over-fishing, discards and illegal landings, and the over-capacity of the fleet. A further difficulty has arisen as a result of many different species being taken by each operation of the fishing gear.

— The environmental dimension

  1.6  The Green Paper states that all fishing activities have an impact on the marine ecosystem, but that the severity of these effects and the time required to reverse them are often not known. It comments that a reasonable balance has to be struck between environmental and fisheries interests, with the latter suffering from factors such as pollution. The Commission points out that, as for other policy sectors, it is in the process of integrating environmental concerns into the CFP, and that it has set out in another Communication[1] specific objectives and means to accomplish them.

— Fleet policy

  1.7  The Commission says that, although fleet capacity is currently defined in terms of tonnage and engine power, there are other factors, such as advances in technology and design, which mean that new vessels exert much more fishing effort than existing ones of equivalent power. However, it adds that the fleet is in any case currently much too large, and that, although earlier attempts to address this question through multi-annual guidance programmes (MAGPs) were relatively successful, the present programme (MAGP IV) covering the period 1997-2001 is much weaker. The Commission also considers that aid policy, including subsidies for construction, modernisation and running costs, has often undermined the position, since it has not been accompanied by a sufficient decrease in capacity.

— Decision-making processes

  1.8  The Commission says that taking decisions at the Community level is not well suited to responding quickly to local and emergency circumstances. It adds that it has been clear that stakeholders do not feel sufficiently involved in such matters as the elaboration of scientific advice and the adoption of technical measures, with fishermen in particular believing that their views have not been taken sufficiently into account, thereby undermining support for the measures taken.

— Monitoring and control

  1.9  The Commission observes that the monitoring and control activities to enforce the CFP are widely seen as insufficient and discriminatory, and that fishermen in almost all Member States are calling for a more centralised and harmonised control system at Community level. The Commission itself believes that the limited powers given to Community inspectors constitute a major obstacle to effective action, and that heterogeneous legal systems as between one Member State and another often result in different treatment of infringements. It also notes that the organisation of control and monitoring is fragmented, not least as regards the respective responsibilities of the Commission and Member States within regional fisheries organisations.

— Economic and social dimension

  1.10  The Green Paper comments that the CFP has a significant economic impact, and in particular that about 1.1 billion euros of public money at either Member State or national level is injected into the fisheries sector each year, representing a significant proportion of the value of Community production (7 billion euros from fish landings, and 2 billion euros from aquaculture). It also notes the dependence on the fishing industry of certain regions, many of them eligible for support under Objective 1. It says that, despite the importance of the Community's economic involvement, strategies for the industry have remained the responsibility of the Member States, which pursue different and sometimes conflicting objectives, and that there is a "pressing need" for greater clarification of policy objectives. However, it acknowledges that the heterogeneity of the industry makes it difficult to provide a single diagnosis, and that variations in financial performance have often been the result of cyclical rather than structural factors.

  1.11  The Commission also considers the correlation between turnover and the ability of enterprises to make a profit, which it says is an indicator of the critical importance of the balance between the available fisheries resources and the number and capacity of vessels. It therefore sees a reduction in the overall level of capital employed by the fleet as the first requirement for an improvement in its economic performance. It also believes that subsidies available to the fleet (for example for investment, or on fuel) are counter-productive, in that they promote an over-supply of capital, and more generally attract resources which would have otherwise have gone to other parts of the economy. It further comments that employment in the sector is steadily shrinking, and that, if current approaches are not changed, it will become less and less sustainable and viable.

— Aquaculture

  1.12  The Commission notes that aquaculture has contributed to the supply of fish products without increasing pressure on wild stocks, and that it has also played a significant role in the socio-economic development of coastal communities. At the same time, however, there have been problems. As aquaculture has expanded, it has been seen as a threat to other activities, such as tourism, due to its adverse impact on water quality, and the Commission comments that these kind of conflicts will need to be addressed.

— The processing industry

  1.13  The Green Paper notes that there are 2000 processing concerns in the Community, most of them small or medium-sized enterprises, which have had to cope with a range of problems, such as insufficient, irregular and non-competitive supplies, major competition from third country products, and pressures from the retail companies. It says that, in response to these difficulties, there has been a significant restructuring, with the emergence of large companies with a national, or even European, dimension, producing multi-products with high added value. In addition, Community aid policy between 1986 and 1999 evolved from one of encouraging development and modernisation to restructuring and improved competitiveness.

— International dimension of the CFP

  1.14  The Commission notes that the Community has one of the largest fishing fleets in the world, and that, although most of it operates within home waters, a significant part depends on access to non-Community resources, which are either shared with third countries, in international waters, or in waters under the jurisdiction of more distant coastal states. However, problems are arising in the latter case from the wish of coastal states to develop their own fishing sector, and, in many such cases, stock depletion (often exacerbated by inadequate information) is becoming a problem. It says this rules out any likelihood of increasing the fishing opportunities for European vessels in such waters.

  1.15  In the third section of the Green Paper, the Commission identifies the following objectives for the future CFP:

  • to establish sustainable fisheries which ensure healthy marine eco-systems, maintaining the quality, diversity and availability of marine resources and habitats;

  • to contribute to the environmental objectives in Article 174 of the Treaty through appropriate fisheries management action, coupled with action to reduce the impact on fisheries of activities such as maritime transport, oiling and dredging;

  • to integrate health requirements into the CFP in order to protect public and animal health, and to ensure a stable supply to the European market at reasonable prices;

  • to bring fleet capacity into line as soon as possible with the availability and sustainability of the resources;

  • to promote better governance through more transparent, accountable and flexible management and decision-making processes which involve stakeholders regionally and locally, and allow emergencies and problems of a local nature to be adequately addressed;

  • to ensure effective and transparent enforcement rules which can guarantee a level playing field across the Community;

  • to secure an economically viable and self-sufficient sector which can be competitive in a globalised economy;

  • to address the resultant problems of structural adjustment;

  • to promote the responsible and rational exploitation of fishery resources in international waters, and to develop partnerships with third countries consistent with Community development policy; and

  • to improve the quality and amount of relevant data to support decision-making.

  1.16  The Commission says that the launching of a public debate on the basis of this Green Paper is the first step towards achieving these objectives.

  1.17  The remaining part of the Green Paper is devoted to setting out the options and preferences for the future CFP under each of the above headings.

— Conservation policy

  1.18  The Commission says that the need to lay down multi-annual management plans which take the precautionary principle into account is now widely accepted. It suggests that these should be based on a planned development of fishing mortalities over a three to five year period, and should help to avoid two major disadvantages of the present approach of fixing TACs annually — the postponement of difficult decisions, and abrupt changes from one year to another. Medium term environmental and ecosystem objectives and strategies for key species and habitats could also be established through limits on by-catches, and, as mixed fisheries are relevant in Community waters, the Commission suggests that it may be preferable to manage groups of stocks for well-defined fisheries. The Commission then discusses the role of technical measures, which it says should certainly contribute to improved conservation, but where there is a need both to adopt more effective rules and to explore measures (such as discard bans, or allowing a percentage of by-catch species as part of the TAC) which have not been applied up to now. Likewise, it sees an increasing scope for recovery plans, such as the one adopted last year for Irish Sea cod, to include specific technical measures.

  1.19  This section of the Green Paper also includes a highly significant passage on access to waters and resources. It notes that the principle of relative stability as regards quota shares has since 1983 avoided the need for an annual political debate on the allocation key, and says that it does not at present see any viable alternative which would achieve the same results — a view which its consultation process has shown to be widely shared throughout the Community. Consequently, it sees no need for a radical revision of the existing system, though it adds that, when the situation within the sector is more stable, it may be possible to reconsider this, and the "possibility of allowing market forces to operate in fisheries as in the rest of the EU economy". It also notes that, as regards the 6-to-12-mile coastal zone regime, the aim was protect the fisheries by reserving access to small-scale local fisheries, and so protect the traditional activities of coastal communities. It says that, given the further decline in most stocks and the continuing difficulties of fisheries-dependent regions, these objectives seem as relevant today as they were in 1992, and again are generally supported throughout the Community. However, it also says that calls for extension of the coastal zone beyond 12 miles in some Member States have not been supported by verifiable data, whilst modification of the 6-to-12-mile regime would disrupt the long-standing balance of the policy. Similarly, it recommends continuation of the present arrangements regarding the Shetland Box, and points out that, although the legal restrictions on access to the North Sea end on 31 December 2002, all fisheries there of commercial interest are regulated by TACs and that access is hence limited in practice to fleets holding quotas.

— Promoting the environmental dimension

  1.20  The Commission says that, although its proposed strategy for integrating environmental protection requirements can be implemented under the existing CFP without a need of reform, it believes the current review process allows the efficiency of implementation to be improved by strengthening the appropriate legal basis. It says it also intends to launch in the near future a debate on eco-labelling of fisheries products, so as to stimulate consumer awareness and hence attitudes of both managers and fishermen. It suggests that such action might include establishing a legal framework for voluntary labelling, with the "constructive involvement" by public authorities reinforcing the credibility of such schemes.

— Ensuring consumer protection by promoting animal and public health and safety

  1.21  The Commission recalls the generally held view that eating fish has health benefits, though it also points out that there can be risks from contamination by toxic chemicals, heavy metals or parasites. It recalls that fisheries products will be affected by the current overhaul of Community food legislation, and that this might well have different effects, with on the one hand demand being raised, and on the other, the closure of fisheries in polluted areas. It says that the need for any consequential structural adjustment will have to be taken into account in Member States' programmes of financial assistance, and that it is important to ensure that imports of fisheries products fulfil equivalent health requirements.

— Fleet policy


  1.22  The Commission stresses the need in future for a simpler and more effective system which establishes a balance between fleet capacity and exploitation rates consistent with long-term management objectives, though it recognises that this could be complex to put into practice, especially for segments operating mixed fisheries. It highlights the need to ensure that fleet reductions are at least large enough to counter the effect of technological progress in vessel and gear design, and to distinguish between individual fisheries so as to avoid an overall reduction in capacity disguising an increase in capacity of vessels fishing the most over-exploited species. It also lays great emphasis on the need for public aid not to contribute to an increase in fishing effort, and for aid for fleet renewal to be abandoned in the long term. The Commission concludes this section by outlining two possible approaches to fleet reduction — one involving the fixing the quantitative objectives over a defined period, and the other creating a mechanism which avoids fixed objectives but which causes capacity to be reduced over time through requiring any new vessels to be accompanied by the withdrawal of more capacity.

— Improved governance

  1.23  The Commission says that it is desirable for there to be new forms of participation in the pre-decision phase of CFP policy-making. It advocates a network of regional advisory committees, co-financed by the Community, national authorities and stakeholders, and involving national officials, industry representatives, fisheries biologists and economists, with participation from all Member States involved in the fishery. It also suggests that responsiveness would be improved by delegating to Member States, under conditions defined in Community law, responsibility for adopting within territorial waters specific local conservation measures (though the Commission would retain its right of initiative to adopt emergency measures). It also points out that, although Member States are currently allowed to adopt stricter conservation measures under their jurisdiction, these may at present apply only to their own fishermen, and it suggests that in future such measures might be applicable to all vessels operating in the waters concerned. These would need to avoid either overt or covert discrimination against fishermen from other Member States, and to be compatible with those applying outside the territorial waters.

  1.24  The Commission also draws attention in this section to the role of Integrated Coastal Zone Management (ICZM) in reducing conflict between fishing communities and other uses. It says that, as well as promoting stakeholder involvement, ICZM works towards the coordination of sectoral policies impacting on the coastal zone, including land based activities.

— Monitoring, enforcement and control

  1.25  The Commission believes that further areas where progress is necessary could be the coordination of national control policies, the harmonisation of penalties for infringements of fisheries regulations, and the admissibility by all Member States of inspection reports by Community and national inspectors as a means of proof and transparency in the follow-up of infringements. It also stresses the need for the Community to adopt a position quickly on the division of responsibility between the Commission and Member States on the control of fishing in waters managed by regional fisheries organisations. Other aspects mentioned are the possibility of setting up a Community Joint Inspection Structure to co-ordinate national and Community inspection policies and activity and to pool resources, the tightening of infringement procedures, and improving the impact of penalties for infringement, such as loss of quota, withdrawal of licences, or repayment of financial aid.

— Strengthening the social and economic dimension

  1.26  This part of the Green Paper outlines the issues which will need to be addressed as a consequence of the cut-backs which the Commission foresees in catching capacity and employment in the Community fishing fleet. It suggests that this needs not only to secure a sustainable and viable fisheries sector, but also to help those now in the industry to find alternative employment, where the lack of transferability of skills is seen as a problem. More specifically, the Commission believes that greater flexibility will be needed to adjust structural policy to new and unforeseen events, perhaps by relaxing limits on aid for temporarily laying-up vessels; by Member States providing less aid for modernisation or construction, and more for decommissioning; and by the Community considering whether, and under what conditions, investment aid for the fishing fleet might be phased out (though it comments that small-scale artisanal fisheries may need to be excluded from this approach). In addition, the Commission identifies a number of other management tools, which it says are not yet widely used in Europe, but which might be explored. These include market-based systems for the allocation of quotas (such as individual transferable quotas and auctions), "co-management" systems; and access levies for the rights to fish, at least for some part of the Community fleet. The Commission is proposing to co-ordinate an exchange on view on these ideas, with a view to preparing a report in 2003 at the latest.

  1.27  The Green Paper also mentions two other areas where action may be needed. First, it says that Community policy for the processing sector should be more selective and geographically focussed on the basis of cohesion policy criteria, targeting small and medium-sized enterprises in areas most dependent on fishing activities. Secondly, it highlights the importance of the relationship between aquaculture and the environment, and the particular need to adopt sustainable practices, alongside the "imperatives" of health and quality standards. It also notes that, whereas twenty years ago, aquaculture was for many species a high risk activity, this is no longer the case, and it questions the wisdom of the Community continuing to subsidise investments by private companies in production capacity for species where the market is close to saturation.

— External relations

  1.28  The Commission notes the importance to the Community fleet of access to fish stocks in international waters and those of third countries. In the former case, it says that the Community should be leading the efforts of the international community, and it identifies the priorities as being promoting regional fisheries agreements, promoting the rational exploitation of the high seas resources, contributing to the application of the precautionary principle, stepping up the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by strengthening monitoring and control activities, and encouraging the participation of developing states in the relevant regional organisations. As regards bilateral co-operation, the Commission says that access for the Community fleet to surplus stocks should be achieved in a manner coherent with other objectives in the development and environmental spheres, and in particular ensure the sustainability of resources. On the last point, it says that a prerequisite is to strengthen the research capacities of partner countries and regions as regards the state of the resources.

— Research and scientific advice

  1.29  The Commission stresses the place of fisheries resources in their wider ecosystem. It says that this requires a substantial effort to improve understanding of the functioning of those systems and how they react to different types of fishing pressure and exploitation strategies, thereby combining conventional fisheries science with conservation science and economics. It adds that research priorities need to be better defined, with innovative research required in areas such as selective and environmentally friendly gears, genetics, methodologies for improved assessment and sampling programmes, and sustainable aquaculture systems.

The Government's view

  1.30  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 3 April 2001, the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Morley) says that this review offers an important opportunity with considerable implications for the future of fisheries management. The UK shares the Commission's view that a common fisheries policy is clearly essential if stocks are to be conserved, but that the current CFP is failing to meet all the objectives originally set for it, making it necessary for significant improvements to be made.

  1.31  The Minister says that the Green Paper sets out many of the concerns previously identified by the Government as priorities for consideration in the review. In particular, the poor state of the fish stocks must be addressed, where the Government agrees with the Commission that a range of measures is needed, and that a better balance between capacity and stock availability must be secured. He suggests that the phasing out of construction and modernisation grants is particularly important. The Minister also says that technical conservation measures, particularly to protect spawning stocks and juveniles, must be strengthened, which should more readily be achieved by improving stakeholder involvement and hence a sense of ownership. He points out that a number of recent initiatives — notably in the development of cod and hake recovery plans — have increased the direct involvement of fishermen and scientists in regional fisheries management decisions, and that building on these is important, as is the establishment of bodies along the lines of the suggested regional advisory committees.

  1.32  On access to stocks, the Minister says that the UK welcomes the Commission's arguments in favour of the maintenance of the current 6 and 12 mile restrictions, which are of particular importance to the inshore fleet, and he suggests that there would also be value in making these permanent. He also considers that the suggestion that Member States should be given control over conservation measures for all vessels within 12 mile limits could offer benefits in terms of stock conservation, wider environmental protection, and safeguarding inshore activity. The Commission's support for the retention of the Shetland Box beyond 2002, and the continued use of relative stability (with recognition of the value of Hague Preference) as the basis for allocating national shares of total allowable catches are also welcome.

  1.33  Finally, the Minister says that a number of other issues identified as important by the Commission are in line with UK thinking. These include greater environmental integration and the pursuit of sustainable development, more consistency in control and enforcement, and better value for money in third country agreements. He adds that the need for coherence between Community commercial policy on fisheries and development policies to eradicate poverty in developing countries are also of critical concern.

  1.34  The Government, and the devolved administrations have launched a consultation exercise, and the results of this will be taken into account in UK preparations for what the Minister calls the "major debate" on the Green Paper expected in the Fisheries Council on 18 June 2001.


  1.35  Although this document does not contain any legislative proposals, it is nevertheless highly significant in terms of setting the agenda for the future of the Common Fisheries Policy, and the Minister's comments confirm that the debate in the Fisheries Council in June will be a major event. We therefore think it important that the Green Paper (and the three background papers circulated with it) should be debated in European Standing Committee A before then, if at all possible, but, in any event, before the Commission's deadline of 30 September for the receipt of comments. We believe that the various headings in paragraphs 1.18 - 1.29 above would provide a useful annotated agenda for such a debate, though it seems to us that the House may wish to pay particular attention to those parts of the Green Paper dealing with the setting of total allowable catches, access to waters and resources, fleet policy, and monitoring, enforcement and control.

1   (22279) 7260/01; see paragraph 17 of this Report. Back

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