Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirteenth Report


COM(01) 143

Commission Communication: Elements of a Strategy for the Integration of Environmental Protection Requirements into the Common Fisheries Policy.
Legal base:
Document originated: 16 March 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 16 March 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 5 April 2001
Department: Agriculture, Fisheries and Food
Basis of consideration: EM of 24 April 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: No date set
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Cleared, but relevant to the debate recommended in European Standing Committee A on the Green Paper on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy


  17.1  Article 6 of the Treaty requires environmental protection requirements to be integrated into a range of Community policies, with a view to promoting sustainable development, and, following the impetus given to this process by the Cardiff meeting of the European Council in 1998, the matter has been pursued within the Fisheries Council, which is aiming to adopt a strategy for presentation to the next meeting of the European Council in Gothenburg. According to the Commission, this Communication is intended as the basis for the adoption of such a strategy.

The current document

  17.2  In its Communication, the Commission notes the effect which fishing activities have on the marine environment both directly (through the depletion of stocks, and the impact on marine habitats) and indirectly (through changing the situation in other parts of the food chain). Conversely, it also points out that environmental changes can in turn affect the productivity of fisheries. It suggests that, beyond the legal obligations derived from the Treaty, there is an ethical obligation to ensure that these effects do not become large, unmanageable or irreversible, but that, notwithstanding the degree of integration already achieved, progress has been less than might be expected.

  17.3  It attributes this to two main factors. First, it says that the CFP has in some respects been inadequate, as for example in its over-exploitation of major commercial stocks, its effects on non-target organisms and habitats, and the threats posed by aquaculture in such areas as water quality. Secondly, it suggests that the CFP has dealt with environmental matters in a reactive way, after problems have arisen, and furthermore that action has been hindered by a lack of scientific knowledge about the functioning of marine eco-systems. However, it acknowledges that matters have started to change, with fisheries managers and the industry itself progressively bringing environmental concerns into their decisions. More generally, it suggests the ultimate aim should be to incorporate such elements as the precautionary principle, the precedence of preventive action, and the need to rectify environmental damage at source (with emphasis on the responsibility of those causing that damage). It also considers that there are currently good opportunities to bring about this kind of change, due to the broad consensus that the long-term cost of doing nothing would be unaffordable, and to the current review of the CFP. It adds that the latter would enable any changes to be accommodated within the relevant Community rules.

  17.4  As to the main elements of an integration strategy, the Commission says a first and uppermost step would be a change in attitude, leading to an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management, which in turn will depend largely on the state of scientific knowledge, in particular on the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems. It adds that it will be for policy makers to make the best use of such knowledge to establish a balance between ecosystem conservation and socio-economic needs, as well as between the short and the long term. Secondly, it stresses the need to accept the environmental principles set out in Article 174 of the Treaty, but it points out that, apart from the application of the precautionary principle to the management of fish stocks, little work has been carried out, and that more needs to be done. Thirdly, it highlights the need for specific management actions to be defined, along with adequate monitoring and reporting. It suggests that the minimum requirements in this respect are set out in its Communication[36] on Fisheries Management and Nature Conservation in the Marine Environment and in its forthcoming Biodiversity Action Plan for Fisheries.

  17.5  The Commission also identifies a range of topics to be covered. These include:

  • "Cross cutting" topics, such as a reduction in overall fishing pressure, integrated coastal zone management, control and enforcement, raised awareness (particularly within the fishing industry), handling the economic and social consequences, good governance (through decentralisation and stakeholder involvement), and institutional and functional issues affecting decision making;

  • Conservation of marine ecosystems, through the re-building of commercial fish stocks, but with due attention being given to the effects on the whole marine ecosystem;

  • Research, where it identifies a need to reduce the gap between the highly specialised nature of fisheries stock assessment, and the broader aspects of ecosystem management, with the two sides being brought closer together in the advice-giving process;

  • Structural policy, providing for the adaptation of fleets to the marine ecosystem;

  • Marketing policy, where the Commission envisages the reduction in market withdrawal support playing a significant role in encouraging fishermen to take a more pro-active, preventive role in adapting supply to the market: similarly trade policy would play a part in discouraging imports of products which do not comply with international rules;

  • International co-operation, with the Community taking the lead in fostering environmental integration within the various regional fisheries organisations;

  • Aquaculture, where action should be taken to promote protection against pollution, the dissemination of diseases and parasites, and eutrophication, combined with labelling to indicate the origin and type of production; and

  • The effects of environmental changes on fisheries, where it says that fishermen can legitimately demand a better policy as regards water quality.

  17.6  The Commission also lays considerable emphasis on the need to monitor the progress of any integration strategy. It points out that extensive work has been carried out in the field of evaluation and indicators within bodies such as FAO, OECD and the European Environment Agency. It says that the DPSIR (Driving Forces, Pressure, State, Impact and Response) framework is becoming widely accepted, and it suggests that work in this field should be pursued in order to define an operative framework adapted to the sphere of fisheries and the environment.

The Government's view

  17.7  In his Explanatory Memorandum of 24 April 2001, the Parliamentary Secretary (Commons) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the UK is fully committed to the better integration of environmental concerns and sustainable development into the CFP, and supports the presentation of this Communication. He adds that the Commission has already identified this as a priority for the forthcoming review of the CFP, and that the UK will seek to ensure that appropriate action is forthcoming. The Government is currently consulting with interested parties, and the Minister says that the responses will help shape the UK's negotiating line.


  17.8  Like many similar communications, this document tends to be repetitive and couched in somewhat general and unfocussed terms, making it difficult in places to identify precisely what action is envisaged. Having said that, it deals with an important subject, which the Commission sees as an integral part of the forthcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. For that reason, we regard it as relevant to the debate which we are recommending in European Standing Committee A on the Commission's Green Paper setting out its thinking on the future of the Common Fisheries Policy.[37]

36   (20390) 10078/99; see HC 34-xxxviii (1998-99), paragraph 34 (20 October 1999). Back

37  See paragraph 1 above. Back

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