Environment, Food and Rural Affairs CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)

Executive Summary

The proposal includes a number of major innovations but falls well short of the ambition envisaged by the 2009 Green Paper in failing to provide the framework, tools and safeguards needed to guarantee a genuine shift towards ecologically sustainable fisheries.

The proposal needs to be supported and strengthened in several key areas, notably:


environmental integration,

discard avoidance,

reduction of over-capacity, and



1. The 2008 report by the House of Lords EU Committee said that the CFP “has one of the most dismal reputations of any European Union policy”. In July 2011, Minister Benyon agreed that “the CFP has been an unmitigated disaster”.

2. The RSPB endorses this view, noting:

Over 70% of EU fish stocks are over-exploited, compared with 28% globally (FAO).

EU fleet capacity is up to two to three times too high to be sustainable; landings at EU ports fell by 30% between 1998 and 2008.

In 2010, EU Ministers set Total Allowable Catches (TACs) 34% higher than advised by scientists.

Commissioner Damanaki says only 9% of stocks are likely to be sustainable by 2022 if the status quo persists.

3. The July proposal includes several welcome innovations but its ambition falls well short of the Commission’s Green Paper which called for “... a sea change cutting to the core reasons behind the vicious circle in which Europe’s fisheries have been trapped in recent decades.” The proposal fails to break this “vicious circle” by not providing the necessary framework, tools and safeguards to reduce fleet overcapacity and restore fish stocks.

4. The proposal is frequently vague about who should do what and by when. The Commission claims this is deliberate open-endedness to defer solutions to Member States and stakeholders.

Are the right general objectives set? What additional tools are needed?

5. The proposal fails to address the problem of unfocused policy objectives, identified in the Green Paper as one of five key structural failings of the CFP. In particular, ecological sustainability is not asserted as a pre-condition for delivering social and economic sustainability.

6. We welcome the clear target to restore and maintain populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), not later than 2015.

7. We strongly support the unconditional objective to implement an ecosystem-based approach. The current CFP merely aims at “progressive implementation of an ecosystem-based approach”.

8. The objective on the “integration of the Union environmental legislation” fails to go beyond current requirements of the Treaty. The objectives should commit the CFP to contribute to delivering the goals of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, and the Birds and Habitats Directives.

9. The commitment to establish management measures “in accordance with the best available scientific advice” is stronger than the existing CFP’s “based on scientific advice”. However, we urge the CFP to go further and follow the US Magnuson-Stevens Act in forbidding the setting of catch limits above scientifically recommended levels; to do otherwise compromises achieving MSY.

Is a landing obligation the most appropriate way to address discards?

10. We support the proposal for an incremental discard ban and the counting of all catch against quota. However, the proposal focuses on the issue of landing all catch rather than discarding unwanted catch, and what happens once it is landed. Much more focus is needed on tailored solutions, fishery by fishery, for minimising the capture of potentially discardable fish in the first place.

11. Avoiding discards is more important than the creation of new markets through the landing of unwanted catch which risks removing the incentive for fishermen to avoid catching such fish.

What are the implications for the social and economic viability of UK fishers and coastal communities?

12. CFP reform based on an ecosystem approach and delivering healthier, more biologically-diverse seas will build economically viable industry and communities. Enabling depleted stocks and damaged habitats to recover will also increase environmental resilience to the impacts of climate change which, if left unmitigated, could lead to the loss of important breeding and nursery areas for commercially important fish.

What measures should be used to manage fleet over-capacity? Would TFCs contain sufficient safeguards?

13. Rights-Based Management has certainly driven down fleet capacity elsewhere but has never before been attempted multi-nationally and with such fleet diversity. Moreover:

14. The Commission is putting all its eggs in the “market forces” basket, largely giving up on other primary tools for reducing over-capacity.

15. We are opposed to the compulsory nature of TFCs. Member States should have the discretion to choose from a range of tools that best suit the allocation of fishing rights.

16. It is not clear how TFCs will compensate for “technological creep” whereby technology advances increase fishing power by 2–4% per annum (Commission estimate).

17. Member States may withdraw TFCs for “serious infringements” but who decides what a serious infringement is (is there a third party right of appeal?).

18. The proposal is insufficiently clear on an alternative scheme for the small-scale sector, leaving Member States to decide on access arrangements for these boats which comprise more than 70% of the EU fleet.

19. Alternative approach: There are insufficient safeguards to ensure that TFCs will deliver the “right” capacity, quantitatively and qualitatively. To do this, we first need targets and timelines for the reduction of overcapacity and for restructuring the fleet of each Member State, with penalties (such as reductions in EU funds or relevant quota) for non-compliance.

20. Within this framework, environmental and social criteria should then steer allocation of fishing rights, “rewarding” with preferential access those who fish in the most environmentally and socially responsible way, and excluding those who don’t.

Will the proposals to decentralise decision-making improve governance?

21. The proposal does not go far enough to empower stakeholders within Member States, bearing in mind that many fisheries decisions now fall to “top-down” co-decision.

22. Only Member States have the legal powers to develop and adopt multi-annual plans. There is little prescription for inviting the role of stakeholders (fishers, NGOs etc) at regional level and generating genuine co-management.

23. The Commission earlier anticipated strengthening the Regional Advisory Councils (now to be Advisory Councils) but the proposal offers no such enhancement. The Commission tells the RSPB they will elaborate on this “in the form of draft delegated acts.

Do the proposals set the right framework for implementing an ecosystem based approach, including improving the data availability?

24. Implementation of an ecosystem approach in the current CFP has been painfully slow, incoherent and reactive. The new CFP must make ecosystem-based management fully operational across all regions and within a set timeframe.

25. The objectives are a distinct improvement (see §7 above) but are deficient (§8) in not binding the CFP explicitly to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the Natura 2000 Directives.

26. We welcome the proposal to allow Member States to take “fast-track” measures protecting Natura 2000 sites from fisheries impacts, without having to resort to co-decision. However, unless the proposed text is radically improved, it risks creating legal ambiguity and even undermining the current level of protection.

27. To deliver an effective ecosystem-based approach, the CFP must also:

ensure multiannual plans are ecosystem-based;

extend provisions on fish discards to measures for minimising bycatch of non-target species such as seabirds and turtles; and

require EU vessels to meet the same legally-binding standards for sustainability wherever they fish, eg West African waters.

28. Data collection underpinning an ecosystem approach is currently unfit for purpose, eg:

Lack of investment by Member States in fish stock assessment prevents ICES from calculating “analytical status” for around 60% of stocks, a major impediment to achieving and validating the 2015 MSY target.

The EU Data Collection Framework (DCF) focuses almost exclusively on collecting data on the impact of fisheries on fish stocks. It does not, eg, require Member States to collect data on seabird bycatch. The DCF must remedy this and other ecosystem data gaps.

What actions should the UK Government take to encourage ambitious CFP reform?

29. The UK Government should fight to retain the key objectives (notably MSY), strengthen others (notably linkage to the MSFD and Natura 2000, and decentralisation) and oppose inappropriate measures (notably compulsory TFCs).

30. The UK should also lead by example, building alliances with sympathetic Member States, with the devolved administrations, and with MEPs influential in the EU Parliament’s Fisheries Committee.

31. Hugh Fearnley-Whitingstall’s FishFight has been a lightning rod for public opinion which is supportive of, and will expect, bold UK action.

August 2011

Prepared 23rd February 2012