Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

1 Electronic recording and reporting of fishing activities and means of remote sensing



COM(04) 724

Draft Council Regulation on electronic recording and reporting of fishing activities and on means of remote sensing

Legal baseArticle 37EC; consultation; QMV
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationMinister's letters of 22 February, 14 June and 16 July 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 38-ii (2004-05), para 1 (8 December 2004)
To be discussed in CouncilNo date set
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionFor debate in European Standing Committee


1.1 Since 1992, the Community has promoted the use of a satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS) as a means of controlling its own fishing fleet and those third-country fleets operating within Community waters. However, the Commission says that, although accurate and timely reporting of information relating to fishing activities[1] is also essential for proper enforcement, this is currently collected by masters of vessels using a paperbound logbook. This means that, in order for it to be transmitted to enforcement authorities, it must first be digitalised, a process which the Commission describes as slow, costly and liable to errors. At the same time, it also believes that the introduction of an electronic recording and reporting system has become technically feasible.

1.2 It therefore put forward in October 2004 this document proposing the introduction of such a system, and requiring the master of a Community fishing vessel to record by electronic means that information relating to fishing activities which he is required by Community legislation to record in a logbook, and to send it by electronic means to the relevant competent authority. Declarations of catches landed by a Community fishing vessel and the first sales note related to those catches would also have to be transmitted in this way, whilst Member States would be required to set up the necessary administrative and technical structures, subject to detailed implementation rules being drawn up by the Commission, in consultation with representatives of the Member States.

1.3 The proposal also addresses the role which remotely sensed images sent to earth by satellites can play in assessing more accurately the presence of fishing vessels in a given area. It would thus oblige Member States to ensure that they have the technical capacity needed to cross-check this information with that obtained via the VMS.

1.4 In an Explanatory Memorandum of 2 December 2004, the Government said that the UK had consistently supported pilot and research projects into the feasibility of developing electronic reporting, and that it therefore gave a cautious welcome to this proposal. However, it was concerned about pushing ahead with decisions in advance of the outcome of pilot projects — notably the SHEEL (Secure and Harmonised European Electronic Logbooks),[2] in which the UK has participated — and without an impact assessment for what "might prove to be costly requirements". It also believed that it would be a mistake to specify any level of detail in advance of a more developed understanding of the technical issues, and that Member States and the Commission would first need to agree specifications and detailed rules; undertake procurement, testing and installation work; and adapt existing databases to accept real-time data. The Government also considered it inappropriate to develop proposals on remote sensing before experts from the Commission and Member States had reviewed the outcome of another pilot project,[3] and understood both the options available and the costs.

1.5 In their Report of 8 December 2004, our predecessors commented that the steps proposed appeared to be a sensible way of improving fisheries enforcement, but they noted the Government's unease that the Commission had come forward with proposals before the completion of the various pilot projects. They therefore decided to hold the document under scrutiny, and asked the Government to keep them closely informed of any further developments, including the reactions of the UK industry to what had been proposed.

Minister's letters of 22 February 2006, 14 June 2006 and 16 July 2006

1.6 We have since received three letters from the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Ben Bradshaw). The first, dated 22 February 2006, said that, following a questionnaire sent to Member States, the Commission had produced an informal paper, together with an indication of the basis for its assumptions about the possible costs of an electronic recording system, but that, although Member States had encouraged it to prepare a detailed proposal to assist further discussion, this had yet to be made available. Despite this, the subject was apparently being scheduled for discussion and vote at the meeting of the Council in April 2006 on the basis of a compromise text being prepared by the then Austrian Presidency.

1.7 Our Chairman therefore replied on 1 March expressing concern at this development, and reminding the Minister that our predecessors had stressed the need for any further information to be provided in good time to allow the implications to be considered by the House, should this be judged necessary. He also asked whether the UK agreed with the cost estimates (which we were told indicated that Member States could face capital expenditure of €130,000 and software costs of €400,000, depending upon their current requirements, whilst for the industry there would be hardware costs of €1500-2000 per vessel for those without suitably integrated on-board PCs and software costs of around €1000, plus annual transmission costs of between €425 and €750 for a vessel operating for 250 days a year).

1.8 We next received from the Minister a letter of 14 June 2006, enclosing a copy of a Presidency compromise text, in which he indicated that the UK's main concern was that the implementation date proposed — six months after the detailed implementing rules had been agreed — was insufficient, and that Member States had pressed for this to be extended to 12 months. He also addressed the possible costs of the proposal, pointing out that the costs to fisheries administration was "thought to be high". The costs to industry for the introduction and operation of electronic logbooks were in line with those quoted during the SCHEEL pilot project, but the latest version of the proposal would give rise to additional costs of around €350 a year for most businesses as it would require those involved in the sale at auction and purchase of fish direct from fishing vessels to record and transmit information electronically; this would also give rise to setting-up costs estimated at around €200,000 for fisheries administrations. The Minister added that there had been no further discussion of the proposal in the Fisheries Council, but that the intention appeared to be that it should be adopted as an A point[4] before the summer. In noting this in his reply of 21 June, our Chairman asked whether the various pilot projects to which our predecessors had drawn attention had been completed, and, if so, whether they had given rise to any issues which had been taken on board. He also enquired how far the industry had been consulted, and what its reactions had been.

1.9 These points have now been addressed further in a letter of 16 July 2006 from the Minister. He says that one pilot project (IMPAST) was completed in 2004, and showed that, whilst remote sensing can confirm the presence of vessels, satellite images alone could not be used for enforcement purposes, other corroborative evidence of fishing (such as physical sightings) still being required. As a result, the proposal would no longer require Member States to use remote sensing without proper justification. The SCHEEL project was due to report back to the Commission in the summer, but the work done so far had been helpful in enabling good and bad practice to be identified, and it would also help in the formulation of the detailed rules for electronic logbooks.

1.10 As regards the views of the industry, copies of the original proposal had been sent to interested organisations in April 2005, and the amended proposal had been circulated in April 2006. The initial reaction had been "generally supportive", but there had been concerns over the funding of equipment, together with some scepticism as to whether the new system would demonstrate greater accuracy than current methods. Subsequently, concerns had also been raised over the funding of terminals, but the main issue had been the development of detailed rules.


1.11 Although it is clearly desirable that information needed for control purposes should be transmitted in the most efficient way possible, it will be evident from the above account of our exchanges with the Minister that it has proved difficult to establish clearly the precise scope of this proposal or its likely impact on the industry. Nor are we clear when it will be considered by the Council, and on what basis. However, it does seem evident from the information we have received, that the majority of fishing vessels will incur additional capital and operating costs, and that this — and the nature of any detailed rules which may subsequently be drawn up by the Commission — is a matter of some concern to the industry. For these reasons, we think it right that these issues should be considered further by the House, and we are therefore recommending this document for debate in European Standing Committee.

1   Such as the quantities of catch on board, species, time spent fishing, the area where catches are taken, and the gear used. Back

2   This currently aims to produce a conclusive report by the end of 2005. Back

3   Improving Fisheries Monitoring by Integrating Passive and Active Satellite Technologies (IMPAST). Back

4   Without further substantive discussion in the Council. Back

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