Select Committee on European Communities Twelfth Report


Government Response


  1. The Government welcomes this timely report as making a constructive contribution to the current debate on the future direction of fisheries agreements between the European Community (EC) and third countries. The government wishes to express its appreciation to members of the Select Committee for their work in preparing such a thorough and positive document.

  2. The enquiry focussed on one particular type of fisheries agreement, namely those in which the EC obtains fishing rights for Community vessels in third country waters in exchange for financial remuneration. Most of these agreements are with African countries and are designed to safeguard traditional distant water fishing by fleets from southern Member States. However, as the Committee acknowledges, it is important to bear in mind that there are other types of agreement, particularly those with Norway and other North Atlantic countries providing for reciprocal exchanges of fishing opportunities, which mainly benefit the UK and other northern Member States and which need to be taken into account in order to obtain the overall picture.


  3. As the Government made clear in its evidence to the Committee, it shares the Committee's concern about the increasing costs of fisheries agreements. It has, therefore, reviewed how best to contain those costs and achieve better value for money and ensure that the agreements operate on a sustainable basis. The Government has concluded that the overall objective should continue to be to ensure that:

fisheries agreements are focussed on maintaining traditional fishing opportunities for EC fishing vessels, operate on a sustainable basis, are coherent with wider EC policies and represent value for money.

  4. A number of general principles flow from this overall objective which will be used to guide the Government in responding to future proposals for new or revised agreements:

    (i)   the primary purpose of fisheries agreements should be to maintain traditional fishing opportunities for Member States or to replace newly lost opportunities;

    (ii)   fisheries agreements should not be used to subsidise private arrangements negotiated by EC fishing companies directly with third countries;

    (iii)   fisheries agreements should provide reasonable value for money in terms of their costs and benefits, taking account of:

      -    the value and cost of the fishing opportunities provided;

      -    the employment and other benefits provided;

      -    the extent to which existing agreements have been utilised;

      -    the extent to which costs increase when agreements are renewed;

      -    the relative costs and benefits of similar agreements;

      -    the extent to which fishing operators contribute towards costs;

    (iv)   fisheries agreements should incorporate practical measures to encourage the sustainable management of stocks and effective enforcement of quotas and licences;

    (v)   fisheries agreements should not prejudice wider development objectives for third countries.

  5. It must be recognised that the UK is only one player in the process and that, to date, other Member States have not lent strong support to the concerns expressed by the UK about some fisheries agreements. This limits what the UK can hope to achieve in terms of improving the terms and value for money of fisheries agreements as a whole. However, the Government will continue to keep up the pressure and will be guided by the objective and principles outlined above in participating in future discussions in the Fisheries Council on this subject.

Response to specific recommendations

  We . . . recommend that, prior to any increase in expenditure on third country agreements, an independent study should be commissioned to assess the costs and benefits to the Community arising from third country agreements. (Paragraph 41)

  6. As indicated above, the Government is concerned about the rising cost of fisheries agreements. It would, therefore, want to look very closely at the justification for any further increase in expenditure. In the Government's view, the pressure on the EC budget for fisheries agreement means that a review of future Community policy in this area is imperative to ensure that the available funds are utilised in the most effective manner. In addition, the Informal Development Council in Amsterdam on 1 March drew attention to the need for better information on the costs and benefits to third countries of EC fisheries agreements.

  7. The Government is seeking a discussion in the Fisheries Council of future policy towards fisheries agreements. It will, in addition, draw to the Commission's attention the Committee's recommendation of an independent study.

  We suggest that the conclusion of any agreement should take into account the following:

    (a)   the type and enforceability of regulations aimed at ensuring the sustainability of the resource in question;

    (b)   the costs involved and the resulting impact of an agreement on the availability of funds under other budgetary headings;

    (c)   the demarcation of costs which are specifically for fishing access and those for other aspects, including development aid;

    (d)   the quantified potential benefits to employment; and

    (e)   coherence with other Community objectives. (Paragraph 42)

  8. The Government agrees that all these factors should be taken into account when considering proposals for individual agreements.

  This Committee has argued consistently over a number of years that the Common Agricultural Policy should be reformed to reflect greater budgetary discipline. We stress the importance of the application of similar discipline to this aspect of the Common Fisheries Policy. (Paragraph 43)

  9. The Government agrees that greater budgetary discipline is required to rein in the increasing cost of third country fisheries agreements. It notes that the Commission was forced to seek an additional budgetary appropriation in 1996 to cover greater than anticipated expenditure in this area. Improved financial discipline is one of the points the Government intends to promote as part of the Community review of future policy towards fisheries agreements which it is seeking.

  We strongly recommend that the costs of fishing access under these agreements should be passed on to the fishing operators who benefit under the agreements. This adjustment in revenues could be accomplished by increasing the price of licensing fees paid by Community fishing fleets in third country waters. Those funds which are not paid directly for fishing access would be met by the Community. (Paragraph 44)

  10. The Government considers it entirely reasonable that those fishermen benefiting from fisheries agreements should bear more of the costs. At present, the EC budget contributes around two-thirds of the total costs of agreements with the balance coming from licence and other fees paid by Community fishing operators. The Government wishes to see a shift in this balance so that operators pay a greater share of the total costs through higher licence and other fees.

  Future third country agreements should be consistent with the technical requirements (i.e., fishing zones, fishing seasons, mesh sizes, by-catch requirements, quota limits) observed in Community waters where comparable technical requirements are appropriate. (Paragraph 46)

  11. The evidence provided to the Committee by the Commission explained that fisheries agreements do specify, usually in some detail, the technical measures to be applied. These measures are elaborated in agreement with third countries and, so far as is possible, should be consistent with the measures applied to similar species in Community waters.

  We strongly recommend that steps should be taken to include improved monitoring and compliance provisions based on co-operative, reciprocal observer and inspection systems between the Community and third countries. (Paragraph 48)

  12. The primary responsibility for monitoring and enforcing activities by EC fishermen in third country waters rests with the coastal State. The Government, therefore, supports some of the funds paid by the Community under fisheries agreements being directed specifically to improving monitoring and enforcement activities by developing countries. However, the Community also has a responsibility to ensure that its fishermen behave correctly and responsibly in third country waters. Member States are also responsible for enforcement in EC ports where fish are landed. In this regard, the Government agrees that there is scope for more direct co-operation between the Community and third countries in developing joint observer and inspection arrangements. As suggested by the Committee, for example, there may be opportunities to extend to other agreements the reciprocal observer arrangements agreed with Mauritania and Morocco and the pilot satellite monitoring system agreed with Morocco. The Council Regulation on satellite monitoring agreed at the December Fisheries Council lists Community vessels operating in third countries where there is a reciprocal satellite agreement as one of the three priority areas for satellite surveillance to be operational by 30 June 1998.

  We recommend that the Commission should consider alternatives to setting catch levels as a basis for conservation standards or payments. (Paragraph 48)

  13. The Government will draw this recommendation to the Commission's attention.

  We recommend that the Commission should act as soon as possible to implement mechanisms for reporting back to the Council on the results of scientific and training programmes. (Paragraph 49)

  14. The Government welcomes the practice whereby some third countries decide to seek part of their financial compensation in the form of direct support to scientific and training programmes aimed at improving the skills and knowledge of third country nationals. The Government agrees with the Committee that knowledge about the objectives, effectiveness and impact of these programmes is lacking and it would therefore be useful for the Commission to report back to the Council on this.

  We recommend that there should be full consultation between DG XIV and DG VIII in advance of any future third country negotiations so that the negotiating mandate of the Commission will guarantee the integration of the development and commercial approaches. (Paragraph 50)

  15. The Government recognises the need to encourage closer coordination between DG XIV and DG VIII and will therefore draw this recommendation to the Commission's attention. Ideas which might be considered include joint working groups of the Fisheries and Development Councils, as well as strengthened participation of DG VIII specialists in the Commission teams negotiating fisheries agreements with third countries. The Government is concerned to ensure that fisheries agreements are coherent with development policy, but emphasises the need for caution about offering development assistance as part of a deal to secure commercial fisheries access.

  We recommend that, where species are known to be vulnerable, all agreements should provide for variable catch levels or variation in the number of vessels permitted access to a fishing ground over a defined period of time to be agreed between the parties and based on scientific advice. (Paragraph 52

  16. The third countries concerned have the primary responsibility for managing and conserving the fish stock in their waters and it is clearly in their own interests to ensure that stocks are not overfished or otherwise endangered. Some third countries decide to allocate part of their financial compensation specifically in support of improving their monitoring and enforcement activities. Furthermore, fisheries agreements generally limit the number of vessels and fishing opportunities for particular types of stocks and contain provisions enabling action to be taken to reduce fishing opportunities, close areas or introduce other restrictions if there is evidence that stocks are endangered.

  17. As the Committee recognises, such provisions are particularly important for cephalopod species - octopus, squid and cuttlefish - which are short-lived and can therefore suffer serious damage to stocks if fishing is carried out at too intense a level. Both the main agreements providing cephalopod opportunities - Morocco and Mauritania - provide for Joint Committee meetings with the EC which can be activated to consider whether reductions in catch possibilities or vessels are required to take account of new information about the state of stocks. Catch levels and vessel numbers for cephalopods and other species can therefore be varied in practice.

  We suggest that Council Regulations approving agreements should require the Commission to produce a mid term review to the Council and the European Parliament (Paragraph 53)

  18. The External Fisheries Group of the Fisheries Council, at which MAFF officials represent the UK, meets two to three times each month and is responsible interalia for discussing matters concerning the negotiation of new agreements and the day to day operation of existing agreements. Member States are, therefore, already able to raise with the Commission, new procedures to allow the Commission to keep the European Parliament informed on a regular basis of progress with individual agreements.

  A proper review of these agreements can only take place as part of a much wider ranging analysis of the role and function of the Common Fisheries Policy. (Paragraph 55)

  19. The current budgetary situation for third country agreements means that the Council needs to address, as a matter of urgency, priorities for allocating scarce funds and how better value for money can be obtained from fisheries agreements as a whole. The Government is pressing for this debate to take place in the Fisheries Council at the earliest opportunity. However, the Government agrees with the Committee that the role of fisheries agreements should also feature in the review of the future of the Common Fisheries Policy after 2002.

Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food

March 1997

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