Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Seventh Report

27 Sustainability in Community fisheries



COM(06) 360

Commission Communication implementing sustainability in EU fisheries through maximum sustainable yield

Legal base
Document originated4 July 2006
Deposited in Parliament12 July 2006
DepartmentEnvironment, Food and Rural Affairs
Basis of considerationEM of 14 August 2006
Previous Committee ReportNone
To be discussed in CouncilBy the end of 2006
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared; but relevant to any debate of catch levels for 2007


27.1 According to the Commission, gradually phasing out over-fishing would markedly improve the economic performance of the fisheries sector within the Community, in that it would increase catches and reduce costs, and sustainable fisheries are clearly needed if the sector's potential is to be fully reached. It also points out that both the Community and its Member States committed themselves at the World Summit on Sustainable Development at Johannesburg in 2002 to maintain or restore stocks to levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield,[71] urgently in the case of depleted stocks, and where possible no later than 2015; and it suggests that it is in any case time to manage the fisheries in a manner which looks for success rather than seeks merely to avoid failure. It has therefore set out in this Communication ways in which this approach might be achieved, including a faster move towards a longer-term fisheries management system which focuses on obtaining the best from the productive potential of Europe's living marine resources without compromising their use by future generations.

The current document

27.2 The Communication points out that, whereas some stocks, such as herring and mackerel, are exploited at levels approaching sustainability, catches of many demersal species, such as cod and haddock, have declined dramatically in recent years, as a result of too much fishing in relation to their productive potential. It suggests that a stock management system based on the maximum sustainable yield will help to reverse that situation, and would also lead to the development of larger fish stocks, which — in addition to providing a greater guarantee of wealth — would provide a buffer against the changes in the number of young fish which join the stock each year as a result of environmental factors. A further benefit is that a higher proportion of large- and high- value fish in a stock will help to reduce discards of small low-value fish, and would also reduce by-catches of non-commercial species, such as dolphins and porpoises.

27.3 At the same time, the Commission cautions that attempting to re-build stocks without a longer-term strategy is a risky and difficult task, given the influence of environmental and other factors, and that there is an over-riding need to balance fishing activity against the productive capacity of the stocks. It suggests that a target rate of fishing should be set for each stock, together with a decision on the rate of the annual adjustments needed to reach that target: and it believes that this should be achieved by a range of measures, such as adjustments to the levels of total allowable catches (TACs) and effort levels, incorporating precautionary considerations, and the use where appropriate of technical measures, such as closed areas and gear restrictions.

27.4 More specifically, the Commission suggests that long-term plans should:

  • be prepared in consultation with fishermen, consumers and other interested parties;
  • be based on impartial scientific advice;
  • take into account the economic, social and environment impacts of the measures proposed;
  • define a target rate of fishing (rather than manage biomass levels), and the means of reaching that target;
  • aim at diminishing any harmful impact of fishing on the marine ecosystem;
  • include technical measures ensuring that stocks normally caught together are fished in a way which is compatible with their respective targets;
  • include the possibility of some stocks being exploited below maximum sustainable levels in order to increase the productivity of other species;
  • establish targets irrespective of the initial biological condition of the stock, whilst recognising that stronger measures may be required when there is a high level of depletion;
  • specify appropriate guidelines where the available scientific advice cannot quantify the action needed to achieve the maximum sustainable yield; and
  • be subject to periodic review.

27.5 The Commission comments that implementation of this approach depends very much on the capacity of the fisheries sector at national level, and that Member States face two broad approaches — focussing on reducing catching capacity to that needed to fish at the maximum sustainable yield, or maintaining the fleet size, whilst limiting vessels' capacity to catch fish. It suggests that the first of these is more easily controllable, but that change can be managed more easily under either approach if it occurs gradually. For that reason, it stresses the importance of starting the adjustment process soon, whilst making it clear that, insofar as the main strategic decisions are for Member States, the Community's role is essentially to provide the necessary management framework to phase out over-fishing and to support structural change through the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance and the proposed European Fisheries Fund.

27.6 The Commission concludes by saying that it will over the coming years propose long-term plans with the aim of bringing all major fish stocks in the Community to rates of fishing which achieve maximum sustainable yields (and to develop analogous joint management plans for those stocks which are managed with third countries). It will also give priority to those fisheries where the industry has supported a specific approach through the relevant Regional Advisory Council (RAC) and to those where the most rapid conservation and economic benefits can be gained by moving towards maximum sustainable yield fisheries. It comments that, as a first step in the process of ensuring the necessary long-term plans are in place by 2015, the Community should — without prejudice to any recovery plans adopted to reduce short-term risks to the stocks — adopt with effect from 2007 management decisions which ensure that there is no increase in the fishing rate for any stock which is already over-fished.

The Government's view

27.7 In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 August 2006, the Minister for Local Environment, Marine and Animal Welfare at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Mr Ben Bradshaw) says that the UK recognises the need to begin the debate on how the Community should meet its commitments from the World Summit on Sustainable Development, and that some progress has already been made in the direction of this Communication, for example as regards haddock in the North Sea. However, he adds that there are challenges in applying maximum sustainable yields in some areas, for example mixed fisheries. He welcomes the Commission's recognition of the need to involve Regional Advisory Councils, and notes that some of them have already begun to consider long-term management issues.


27.8 Although this document addresses an important subject, it does so in fairly by-and-large terms, and, for most part, covers familiar ground. For that reason, we see no need to withhold clearance, but we think that the document would be relevant to any debate held on the Commission's proposals for total allowable catches in 2007.

71   The maximum yield which can be taken year after year. Back

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Prepared 26 October 2006