Documents considered by the Committee on 15 March 2017 Contents

4Fisheries Conservation: Technical Measures

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; scrutiny waiver granted; drawn to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Regulation on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures

Legal base

Article 43(2) TFEU, QMV, Ordinary Legislative Procedure

Department

Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Document Number

(37598), 6993/16 + ADDs 1–3, COM(16) 134

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

4.1The conservation provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) include so-called technical measures which, among other things: regulate the design and operation of fishing gear; establish minimum fish landing sizes; seek to mitigate the impact of fishing activity on sensitive species and habitats; and limit catches in certain areas and/or at certain times in order to protect spawning and juvenile fish. They are seen as playing a key role in achieving the objectives of the CFP and related environmental policies.

4.2To date, technical measures have been decided centrally. Recognising that such an approach was inconsistent with the desirability of a more local approach to fisheries management, the EU reformed the CFP in 2013 to introduce a more regional approach to decisions, so that the Member States involved in a particular fishery could decide the necessary measures among themselves.

4.3The Commission’s proposal—tabled last year—seeks to apply the principle of regionalisation to technical measures and, more generally, to simplify what had become a complex array of requirements spread across various pieces of legislation. A set of common rules is proposed for all areas, but with a regionalised approach under which baseline standards would serve as default minimum standards whilst bespoke regionalised measures are agreed among relevant Member States. The measures apply to EU vessels and to third country vessels fishing in EU waters. Third countries are not involved in the regional decision-making process.

4.4When we first considered the proposal—at our meeting of 27 April 2016—we noted that, although technical measures play an important part in conserving fish stocks under the Common Fisheries Policy, there is widespread agreement that the present legislative structure is both overly complex and inflexible. Before taking a view on the document, we decided to wait for the Government’s in-depth analysis comparing the new Regulation with the current legislation.

4.5Since then, the Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (George Eustice) has written to us on four occasions. An emerging analysis was provided by the Minister on 16 May 2016, with more detailed comments on 4 August 2016. Two particular themes emerged: first, application of technical measures to recreational fisheries; and, second, effective and genuine regionalisation. The Minister also noted that progress towards reaching a General Approach was likely by November 2016. On that basis, we granted a scrutiny waiver. In terms of the content of discussions, the Minister reported—in a letter of 29 September 2016—satisfactory progress on regionalisation but, to date, he has been silent on the application of measures to the recreational fisheries sector. He has also made no comment on any Brexit-related considerations.

4.6The Minister wrote most recently on 4 March. He reports that a General Approach is yet to be agreed. The process has been delayed because the Slovak Presidency’s compromise reversed some of the simplification proposed by the Commission. Work is now continuing based on the original Commission proposal and a compromise developed by the Commission. The Minister explains his working assumption that the scrutiny waiver granted by the Committee in September 2016 remains valid to facilitate any vote on a General Approach, should discussions lead to that outcome. He will continue to update the Committee on developments.

4.7The Minister provides little detail on the likely content of the General Approach but discussions appear to be moving in a direction that is reflective of the UK position—i.e. a much simpler approach based on the key principle of regionalisation. Our interpretation of the Government’s original detailed comments suggested particular interest in the extent to which the measures would apply to recreational fisheries and in the provisions on regionalisation. The concerns on regionalisation were linked to aligning the timetable for adoption of this legislation with ongoing regional discussions. When the likely shape of a General Approach is clearer, we would welcome further information on the progress that the Government has made in securing a text with which it is content. It would also be helpful to know what progress has been made, if any, in separate discussions on regional technical measures.

4.8To date, the Minister’s letters have not touched on the UK’s decision to withdraw from the European Union. Clearly, this legislation will almost certainly apply pre-Brexit and, furthermore, it will apply to UK vessels fishing in EU waters post-Brexit. We raise the following questions on which we would welcome the Minister’s comments:

4.9The Minister sets out his working assumption that the scrutiny waiver granted by the Committee on 14 September remains applicable. That is not correct as the scrutiny waiver was designed to facilitate the agreement that the Government considered likely last autumn. However, on the basis that he continue to pursue an outcome based on the principles of simplification and genuine regionalisation, we are content to renew the scrutiny waiver to allow the Government to engage actively in the negotiations with the Maltese Presidency with a view to reaching a satisfactory outcome. The waiver is limited to the current Presidency. We expect an update from the Department prior to any agreement if the timing of the negotiations permits.

4.10The document remains under scrutiny. We consider that the developments in negotiations should now be reported to the House, along with the Brexit-related questions. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in light of the questions raised relating to Brexit and following our recent joint evidence session with the Minister on matters pertaining to Brexit and fisheries policy.

Full details of the documents

4.11Proposal for a Regulation on the conservation of fishery resources and the protection of marine ecosystems through technical measures: (37598), 6993/16 + ADDs 1–3, COM(16) 134.

Background

4.12The conservation provisions of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) are comprised of two main elements—the setting of annual catch quotas and so-called technical measures. The Commission’s proposal would introduce a more flexible approach to technical measures involving a set of common rules which would be applicable to all areas, such as common measures to reduce discards. At the same time the proposal would establish baseline measures by region, intended to serve as default minimum standards whilst bespoke regionalised measures are agreed among interested Member States. Further details were set out in our Report of 27 April 2016.12

Minister’s correspondence of 4 March 2017

4.13On the progress of discussions, the Minister says:

“You will recall that last Autumn we were anticipating that proceedings would move quickly to a Council vote on a General Approach, which in fact did not happen. The European Parliament Fisheries Committee continues to examine the proposal but has yet to reach a 1st Reading position.

“Following discussion in the Council working group on how to address the Commission’s proposal, the Presidency introduced a compromise in November. The amendment reinserted the whole of the mesh size and catch composition elements, set out in the current Regulation 850/98, back into the baseline mesh standards in the Annexes of the proposal. It also reintroduced a number of associated technical measures that were removed by the Commission to achieve simplification.

“We, along with some other Member States, resisted this compromise as we considered it would present a range of difficulties. This includes not taking into account industry expectations of a simplified model that is better aligned with the landing obligation, and having much more direct involvement in what is agreed in detail at regional level. The Commission arranged regional technical meetings during January, which provided little indication of support for the Presidency compromise.

“We have now returned to working with the Commission’s originally proposed simplified baseline mesh size tables. The Commission worked with the Presidency in putting together a new compromise adding in details of missing directed fisheries and technical amendments.”

4.14The Minister concludes:

“While retaining this dossier under scrutiny, you provided a waiver to enable us to vote on a General Approach. My working assumption is that this waiver remains valid to facilitate such a vote, should these discussions lead to that outcome. I will continue to update you on these developments.”

Minister’s earlier correspondence

4.15The Minister wrote on 16 May 2016 attaching a table providing the Government’s initial analysis of the various features of the proposal. This, he said, was subject to development in liaison with Devolved Administrations and in responding to initial informal consultation input.

4.16He wrote again on 4 August 2016, attaching an updated analysis of the proposal. This was comprised of the UK’s written comments to the Commission and Presidency, agreed with Devolved Administrations and including stakeholder input. This document was submitted to the Presidency by the end of June deadline. Officials from UK fisheries administrations (Defra and Marine Scotland) followed this up, he said, by attending an informal bilateral meeting with the Commission to discuss the high level issues identified.

4.17The Minister reported the Commission’s awareness of Member States’ concerns about having sufficient time to agree regional technical measures to supplement the default standards in the framework proposal. The Commission was therefore keen to see those regional discussions make an early start, and commented that there are options available to ensure the appropriate sequencing of regulations (framework and bespoke regional measures) coming into force.

4.18The Minister understood that the Presidency’s aim was to put together a Council compromise by the end of September, with a view to agreeing a general approach on this dossier by the end of November. In view of that timing he asked that the Committee consider either clearing this proposal from scrutiny at this stage or granting a waiver to enable the Government to vote in the best interests of the UK.

4.19In a further letter of 29 September 2016, the Minister summarised progress in the following terms

“The indications so far are that in relation to our priority to ensure sufficient regional flexibility to manage local fisheries effectively, there is a general agreement of intent between Member States, Commission and Presidency to ensure this principle is applied while we address Article 18 of the proposal, which relates to guiding principles for regionalisation and its interaction with the annexes. This suggests we should be able to establish a working regionalisation model which will incorporate this flexibility principle during the development of the Council General Approach in the coming weeks, which will also be acceptable to the European Parliament.”

4.20The Minister undertook to provide the Committee with an update on these developments before agreement of a Council General Approach.

Previous Committee Reports

Thirtieth Report HC 342-xxix (2015–16), chapter 5 (27 April 2016).


12 Thirtieth Report HC 342-xxix (2015–16), chapter 5 (27 April 2016).




17 March 2017