Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Fifth Report



The European Scrutiny Committee has agreed to the following Report:—






COM(02) 181

Commission Communication on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy ("Roadmap").

Legal base:


Document originated:

28 May 2002

Deposited in Parliament:

31 May 2002


Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Basis of consideration:

EM of 27 June 2002

Previous Committee Report:

None; but see footnotes

To be discussed in Council:

See paragraph 1.26 below

Committee's assessment:

Politically important

Committee's decision:

For debate on the Floor of the House (together with the related fisheries documents dealt with in this Report)



    1. The current Community legislation governing the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) runs until the end of this year, and requires the Council to take a decision before then on the arrangements to apply from 1 January 2003. In anticipation of this, the Commission published in March 2001 a report on the fisheries situation, coupled with a Green Paper[1] on the future of the CFP, discussing its weaknesses, the challenges facing it, and a number of options for reform. This was followed by widespread consultations with interested parties, and there have also been several discussions and debates in the Fisheries Council and European Parliament.
    2. The Commission has now come forward — somewhat belatedly — with its proposals for reform, which comprise a Communication ("Roadmap"), accompanied by various other proposals dealing with the conservation and sustainable exploitation of the fisheries resources, detailed rules on Community structural assistance in this sector, emergency Community measures for scrapping fishing vessels, the eradication of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and the integration of environmental protection requirements into the CFP. This paragraph summarises the contents of the Roadmap, whilst the remaining documents are dealt with elsewhere in this Report.
    3. The Communication flags up a number of other measures which the Commission proposes to bring forward, mainly in the second half of this year. These are listed in Annex I below.
    4. The current document

    5. The Communication begins by identifying the main shortcomings of the CFP. It says the most significant of these is the "alarming" state of many fish stocks which are outside safe biological limits, with stock sizes and landings having declined "dramatically" over the last 25 years, leading the Commission to comment that, if current trends continue, many Community fish stocks will collapse. It adds that, at the same time, the capacity of the Community fishing fleets far exceeds that required to catch the available resources in a sustainable manner, and that, faced with a shrinking resource base and fleet over-capacity, most of the sector faces economic fragility, poor financial profitability, and steadily declining employment, with a 22% decrease in jobs in the catching sector (and 14% in processing) already having taken place between 1990 and 1998. Other problems identified by the Commission include inadequate control and enforcement arrangements; insufficient involvement of stakeholders in shaping policy, thus undermining support for the conservation measures adopted; and a dramatic change in the international environment over the last twenty years, with third countries wishing to develop their own fishing industries.
    6. The Commission says that increased demand for fisheries products and high prices have sheltered fishermen from the effects of the decline in stocks, but that a broad consensus has emerged that the current policy is incapable of reversing the increasing threats to the stocks and of providing economic sustainability. It adds that the debate on reform has also demonstrated the need to put environmental, economic and social sustainability at the heart of the CFP's objectives.
    7. Against this background, the Commission says that the future CFP needs clear and coherent objectives and principles, and that its main areas of activity and priorities also need to be determined, leading to a new policy capable of providing sustainable development in environmental, economic and social terms. It also says that, in order for the CFP to function effectively, good governance principles are essential, involving openness and transparency (particularly in the provision of scientific advice), greater stakeholder participation (not least at local level), clearer accountability (through a definition of responsibilities at the various levels), effectiveness (through proper evaluation of, and compliance with, decisions); and coherence with other Community policies, in particular those on the environment and development.
    8. The Communication then identifies a number of priorities.
    9. — Conservation of resources and fisheries management

    10. The Commission says that this is a pre-condition for achieving the other objectives of the CFP, and that it aims to pursue a more long-term approach, notably by introducing a new multi-annual framework for fisheries conservation and management, including a strengthening of technical measures, and the regulation of industrial fishing. This would be accompanied by measures to keep fishing effort in line with sustainable catching opportunities (implying an immediate and significant reduction in effort), and the incorporation of environmental concerns into fisheries management. It is also formulating an Action Plan for improving the quality and timeliness of the scientific advice provided to fisheries managers.
    11. — Impact of conservation policy on the fishing fleet

    12. The Commission says that limits on fishing effort are an essential part of its plans, and will gradually become the prime management instrument for mixed fisheries. It stresses that there will generally need to be a reduction in the activity of the existing fleet, which could in some cases be as high as 60%, and which will have obvious repercussions for capacity. It notes that the management of this change should be the responsibility of Member States, but that this should be encouraged by Community fleet policy. It also highlights the extent to which over-capacity presents a risk, not only to the survival of the stocks, but also to vessel profitability, and the particular part played in this respect by public aid to investment in the fishing fleet. The Commission therefore proposes new rules on the granting of aid, coupled with measures to limit fleet capacity.
    13. — Access to waters and resources

    14. This section of the Communication deals both with access to fish in the 6-to-12 miles zone (where the Commission proposes a continuation of the present exclusions in favour of local vessels and those with historical rights), and with the wider question of access in the generality of Member States' fishing zones. In the latter case, it states that all Member State fleets should have access to all Community waters on a non-discriminatory basis, subject to the limitations imposed in areas such as the Shetland Box (though any such limitations would be reviewed to ensure that only those justified by conservation purposes are maintained). The Commission also intends "to complete the current framework for fishing access" by regulating all relevant stocks in Community waters, which it says should continue to be allocated between Member States according to the "relative stability" principle. However, it also implies that there may need to be changes in the current allocation keys, for example to reflect the average share of catches over the preceding five or ten years.
    15. — Control and enforcement

    16. The Commission says that there should be a clearer regulatory framework in this area, where it is proposing there should be a new definition of responsibilities between itself and the Council. It also envisages uniform enforcement rules and sanctions for serious infringements; that Member States which fail to comply with the CFP should face deductions from their quotas (or financial penalties, where this is not possible); greater clarity over its own role (including the powers and duties of its inspectors); and rules for the acceptance by national courts of reports made by Community inspectors or those from another Member State.
    17. The Commission intends to come forward later this year with a proposal to establish by mid-2004 a Joint Inspection Structure at Community level (which would pool national means of fisheries inspection and surveillance, and manage them within a Community framework). It will also be preparing an Action Plan for co-operation in enforcement, covering such matters as the monitoring of fisheries subject to recovery plans, the training and exchange of inspectors, a code of conduct for inspections, and the following up of infringements. Finally, it lists a number of so-called implementing measures, covering such matters as increased vessel monitoring by satellite, the deployment of observers on board vessels, and the progressive introduction of electronic logbooks.
    18. — International fisheries

    19. The Commission's aim is to promote international co-operation so as to achieve outside Community waters the same level of sustainable fisheries as in its own waters. It says that this will be undertaken through a strategy for European distant-water fisheries, involving Action Plans to eradicate illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries; to improve, at regional levels, the evaluation of stocks which are accessible to Community fishermen in international waters; and to enhance the policy dialogue with third countries, thereby enabling them to develop their fisheries sectors.
    20. — Aquaculture

    21. The Commission's aim is to provide the best possible conditions for the sustainable development of European aquaculture. It lays great stress on research, and on developing appropriate common environmental and health standards; on the adaptation of Community legislation on fish diseases to recent developments in production and management systems and to new diagnostic techniques; and on improving the rules dealing with the health and welfare of farmed fish. It also says that measures are needed to reduce pollution from aquaculture, and to prevent the introduction and escape of alien species.
    22. — Social dimension

    23. The Commission comments that, even though structural adjustment will facilitate the sustainability of fishing over the long term, it is bound to have short-term consequences. However, it recognises that it is not possible at this stage to quantify the regional employment effects, since these will depend on the management plans finally adopted, and on the alternative employment opportunities in the regions affected. Nevertheless, on the basis of experience following the recent breakdown of the fisheries agreement with Morocco, it suggests that up to 28,000 fishermen could be affected by the current proposals.
    24. It therefore concludes that a new strategy is needed to help the industry bridge the gap between the adverse short-term consequences of a reduced fishing effort and the resulting long-term gain. It suggests that this would involve bilateral consultations with Member States to assess the likely social, economic and regional consequences, and the formulation of Action Plans to counter these; a reprogramming of existing structural funds, with those currently provided for vessel construction being diverted to social measures; and consideration of a long-term strategy for the integrated development after 2006 of coastal areas dependent on fishing. These steps would be complemented by a reinforced social dialogue aimed at improving living and working conditions in the sector, with particular reference to safety, and to the employment of women and young people.
    25. — Economic management of fisheries in the Community

    26. The Commission says that the sector is still characterised by specific features which make the application of normal economic conditions, such as free competition and freedom of investment, difficult to apply in the short term. These include the structural imbalance between catching capacity and available resources, the dependence of certain coastal communities on fisheries, and different national attitudes to public aid. It believes that action to address these issues on the basis of these proposals will gradually create a climate which is more favourable to the elimination of such barriers to normal economic activity as national catch quotas and the principle of relative stability.
    27. Meanwhile, it suggests that the Community needs to consider ways in which the economic aspects of fisheries management can better contribute to the objectives of the CFP, and it is proposing to organise during 2002 a series of workshops to discuss the scope for a system of tradable fishing rights (individual or collective), and for payment for the right to fish and/or the recovery of fisheries management costs from the sector. It says that it will report to the Council during 2003 on the outcome of those debates, and, where appropriate, make proposals or recommendations for Community and national follow-up.
    28. — Effective and participatory decision-making

    29. The Commission identifies a need to improve the operation of the CFP by opening-up the policy-making process to interested parties and promoting greater accountability. It therefore proposes the establishment of regional advisory councils to ensure greater stakeholder involvement at regional and local levels, and the clarification of management responsibilities to meet local needs and emergencies. It says that the latter would enable a Member State (following notification to the Commission and other Member States) to take non-discriminatory management measures applicable to all vessels within its12-mile zone, and to vessels flying its flag within waters under its jurisdiction, provided these are compatible with relevant Community measures. In an emergency, these last measures could be extended for up to three months to all vessels in waters under the Member State's jurisdiction. The Commission also proposes to draw up, in consultation with fishermen and others, a voluntary European Code of responsible fisheries practices, covering such areas as discards.
    30. Finally, it proposes that greater use should be made of framework regulations establishing basic objectives and principles, with more detailed technical and procedural rules being made by the Commission itself; that it should establish a regular dialogue with the Member States, under which national measures for ensuring compliance with obligations under Community law in such areas as fleet policy would be subject to a peer review approach involving other Member States; and that there should be regular publication of a compliance scoreboard providing information on Member States' performance (including any infringement procedures taken against them).
    31. The Commission proposes that the conservation and fleet policy aspects of the reformed CFP should be the subject of a further review in 2008.
    32. The Government's view

    33. In his Explanatory Memorandum of 27 June 2002, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Commons) at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Elliot Morley) says that the review of the CFP is an important opportunity to put in place a coherent and effective system for the conservation of resources and fisheries management, and that the UK shares the Commission's view that, although a common fisheries policy is essential to conserve stocks, the current CFP is failing to meet its objectives. He therefore stresses that this year's review must establish a new set of consistent objectives and provide the tools needed to achieve them.
    34. The Minister says that the Government broadly welcomes the content of the Commission's proposals, which accord with the UK's own objectives. He considers that the Commission has understood the gravity of the situation, and has proposed measures to secure a better balance between fishing capacity and the state of the stocks, where he suggests that the ending of subsidies for fleet modernisation and renewal is particularly important. That said, he points out that, if the industry is to have a sustainable future, it will not be sufficient merely to fix capacity at its current level, and that a reduction is needed.
    35. More specifically, the Minister:

    • welcomes the Commission's commitment to have bilateral discussions with Member States about the impact of the measures on coastal areas dependent on fisheries, in order to develop a strategy to counter the socio-economic consequences;

    • describes as "bold and imaginative" the proposals to achieve effective and consistent control and enforcement standards, which he says warrant serious consideration (though with the caveat that particular attention will need to be paid to those which could impinge on national responsibilities for jurisprudence such as the level of sanctions and enhanced powers for the Commission);

    • welcomes the proposal to extend without any time limit the current access arrangements for the six and twelve-mile limits, which he says are of particular value to the inshore fleet;

    • regards the proposal to allow Member States to take emergency conservation measures within their twelve mile zones as assisting conservation and wider environmental protection;

    • welcomes Commission support for the retention of the Shetland Box, but queries the need to review it shortly thereafter;

    • supports the continuing use of relative stability as the basis for allocating national quotas of total allowable catches;

    • supports movement towards an eco-based approach to fisheries management, with the precautionary approach being put at the heart of the proposed multi-annual framework;

    • sees the proposal for greater environmental integration as a positive step forward;

    • regards the proposed regional advisory councils as a positive step towards greater stakeholder involvement, and in particular the "significant" power they would have to inform Commission decisions and comment on regulations.

    1. The Minister also says that the UK has for some time been concerned with the value for money/cost benefit of third country agreements, the need to rebalance costs between Community budget and vessel owners, and the lack of coherence with Community development policy and environmental sustainability. It has therefore been pressing for improvements, and in particular an environmental impact assessment for each agreement before it is negotiated or renewed, and it believes that the commitment to sustainable fisheries outside Community waters should provide greater coherence with the Community's development policies. However, he adds that the UK would have preferred the proposals to include some form of vade mecum for such agreements, which he suggests would have gone some way to providing a better organised approach to negotiations, with a clear set of instructions for the Commission to follow.
    2. As to the handling of this document and the related proposals and action plans, the Minister says that these were presented to the Fisheries Council on 11 June, and will be discussed at official level from this month onwards before being put to a Fisheries Council later in the year. In the meantime, his department and the devolved administrations have launched a written consultation exercise seeking the views of the fishing industry, environmental organisations and other interested parties, and the comments received will be taken into account in the UK's preparations for the negotiations.
    3. Conclusion

    4. This Communication and the documents accompanying it (see paragraphs 2-5 of this Report) amount to a formidable set of proposals, but, as the Commission has suggested, they are no more than is needed to address the shortcomings of the current Common Fisheries Policy, and to begin the process of restoring the Community's fish stocks to sustainable levels. In this respect, the Commission's aims are difficult to fault, and, in many ways, it has sought to build on and extend the existing elements of the CFP on such fundamental matters as access and the allocation of quotas between Member States. However, as they stand, they would also break new ground, and the Commission has flagged up a number of potentially controversial issues which may have to be addressed separately, notably the creation of a Joint Inspection Structure at Community level, the question of tradeable fishing rights, and the possibility of payment for the right to fish and the recovery of management costs from the sector.
    5. We shall want to look more closely at the latter questions as and when the Commission comes forward with further proposals, but, in the meantime, the importance of the present documents[2] is such that we have no hesitation in recommending them for an early debate on the Floor of the House. Moreover, since the proposals will have a significant impact on coastal areas throughout the UK, and will hence affect the interests of many Members' constituents, we hope that the Government will in this case make possible a considerably longer debate than the 11/2 hours normally available for the consideration of European Union documents.
    6. It is evident from our Reports on these documents that the issues they raise are many and various, and a number of these have been identified in paragraph 1.24 above. However, before any debate takes place, we think it would be helpful if the Government could provide a Supplementary Explanatory Memorandum addressing the following points:

    • the Commission says (paragraph 1.10 above) that, subject to areas such as the Shetland Box, all Member State fleets should have access to all Community waters outside 12 miles on a non-discriminatory basis: how far does this represent a change from the present position, and what for example would be the implications in terms of the activities of Spanish vessels in areas such as the North Sea?

    • although the Commission says (paragraph 1.10) that stocks should continue to be allocated between Member States according to the "relative stability" principle, it also suggests that there may need to be changes in the current allocation keys, for example to reflect the average share of catches over the preceding five or ten years: does the Government think this is likely to happen, and what would be implications for the UK's share of the various total allowable catches?

    • the Commission suggests (paragraph 1.17) that the actions it is proposing to address the various structural imbalances will gradually create a climate which is more favourable to the elimination of what it describes a "such barriers to normal economic activity as national catch quotas and the principle of relative stability": it is not clear whether the Commission envisages that there should at some stage be a "free-for-all", or what alternatives to the present allocation system it has in mind: we would welcome the Government's views on this suggestion;

    • in its proposal for an emergency measure for scrapping vessels (see paragraph 3), the Commission provides estimates of expenditure which suggest that the largest tonnage to be removed would be in the UK, equivalent to no less than 21% of the Community total, and, in his Explanatory Memorandum on this document, the Minister has said that the Commission is not seeking to impose cuts in fleet capacity, and that these figures should be taken as purely illustrative: nevertheless, we find it both strange and disturbing that the Commission should have made such an assumption, and we would be interested in any further information which the Minister may have on the significance of this.








Action Plan to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of the restructuring of the Community fishing industry

Second half of 2002

Report on the economic management of fisheries within the Community

During 2003

Action plan for the improvement of scientific advice

Second half of 2002

Action Plan on discards

Second half of 2002

Action Plan on fisheries management in the Mediterranean

Second half of 2002

Code of Conduct for responsible fisheries in Europe

By the end of 2002

Integrated Framework for fisheries partnerships at national and regional level

Second half of 2002

Action Plan to improve stock evaluation in non-Community waters

Before the end of 2002

Action plan for co-operation in enforcement

Second half of 2002

Communication on a Joint Inspection Structure

Before the end of 2002, with implementation by mid 2004

Strategy for the development of European aquaculture

Second half of 2002

Communication on transparency, performance and compliance

Second half of 2002


1  (22292) 7262/01; see HC 28-xiii (2000-01), paragraph 1 (2 May 2001). Official Report, European Standing Committee A, 27 February 2002. Back

2  Including those discussed in paras. 2-5 below. Back

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