Select Committee on European Union Twenty-Fifth Report


13 May 2003

By the Select Committee appointed to consider European Union documents and other matters relating to the European Union.



The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), after years of failure to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries, was due for substantial overhaul by December 2002.

A promising package of proposals adopted by the Commission in May 2002 was seriously compromised by decisions taken by the Council in December 2002, as a result of special pleading by Member States.

The Committee has no confidence that the new basic CFP Regulation agreed at that meeting, despite some positive features, will meet the objectives of sustainable fisheries and prevent irreversible decline in important stocks unless it is substantially improved.

In particular, the Committee deplores the fact that:

·  Total Allowable Catches (TACs) have been persistently set at levels higher than could ultimately be justified;

·  Long-term recovery plans for key stocks, especially for cod and hake, have yet to be adopted by the Council: proposals from the Commission have been on the table since December 2001 and fresh proposals for cod have only now emerged, after a long delay, in May 2003;

·  Funds will continue to be made available under the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) for construction of new fishing vessels until the end of 2004.

The Committee urges the Government to press hard for adoption by the Council of the following measures:

·  Introduction of effort controls, to work alongside TACs and quotas as appropriate;

·  Significant reductions in fishing fleet capacity, over and above those necessary to neutralise "technology creep";

·  Early progress towards the establishment of a Community Fisheries Control Agency;

·  Urgent establishment of Regional Advisory Councils;

·  Comprehensive gathering of economic data as well as scientific data, as a basis for objective long-term planning.

The Committee concludes that economic intervention in fisheries management is vital. It emphasises the importance of giving fishermen a genuine stake in the long-term financial management of fisheries and argues that transitional financial aid, linked to stock recovery plans, is needed to enable fishing communities to adjust to change.

The Committee urges the Government to promote diversification of coastal economies and the development of alternative employment opportunities. It strongly supports the Commission's proposal to explore the possibility of decoupling FIFG resources from fishing activity in favour of investment in coastal communities.


1. The European Union has had a Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) since 1983 in order to manage fisheries for the benefit of both fishing communities and consumers. Already at the time of its mid-term review in 1992 it was clear that the policy was failing in important ways. A deadline for reform was set for 31 December 2002.[1] In late 2002, amid warnings that the cod stocks in the North Sea were now on the brink of collapse, the Agriculture and Fisheries Council agreed on a reform package. This Report considers whether the new legislation is likely to reverse decades of failure to achieve sustainable management of European fisheries. It is particularly critical of the Council's failure to date to adopt recovery plans for key stocks, especially for cod and hake, despite proposals from the Commission which have been on the table since December 2001. New proposals have now emerged, as we complete this Report (see Box 1), but they face a difficult passage through the Council over the coming months.
Box 1


This Report was virtually complete when the Commission published fresh proposals for a long-term recovery plan for cod (COM(2003)237). The plan would replace the current interim measures (paragraph 14); a separate recovery plan for hake is to follow.

The key features of the plan are:

  The overall aim is to ensure recovery of stocks to precautionary levels, as advised by scientists, within a time frame of five to ten years. This envisages a gradual movement towards setting total allowable catches (TACs) on a multi-annual basis, instead of year by year.

  TACs are to be combined with effort controls in the form of an allocation to each Member State of kilowatt-days (calculated by multiplying the engine power of a vessel by the days spent fishing).

  Member States will distribute the kilowatt-days (which will be transferable) among the vessels of their national fleets.

  Specific measures are included for strengthening monitoring, inspection and enforcement.

  The plan is allied to the €32 million "scrapping fund", already announced (see Box 6, after paragraph 52) for Member States who need to reduce fishing effort by 25% or more in order comply with recovery plans.

Given our views on the vital importance of effort controls and capacity reduction (paragraphs 30, 33, 35 and 52), we welcome these elements of the Commission's proposals. However, in the light of the fate of the Commission's December 2001 proposals, we remain pessimistic that—without dedicated commitment by the UK Government and its supporters in the Council—these new proposals may be the next victims of short-term self-interest and that they will take effect too late.

2. The reforms agreed in 2002 have been long in the making. After a three year consultation process the Commission published a Green Paper on the Future of the Common Fisheries Policy in March 2001, discussing the limitations of the CFP and presenting a number of options for its reform.[2] We took part in that consultation process by undertaking an inquiry that resulted in the report Unsustainable Fishing: What is to be done with the Common Fisheries Policy?, published in January 2001.[3] The Committee was pleased to note how the Commission, both in the Green Paper and in its "Roadmap" proposals of May 2002, had arrived at very similar conclusions to those of the report, in particular on the following key failings of the CFP:[4]

·  The alarming state of the fish stocks

Most fish stocks in Community waters are below their safe biological limits for stock biomass. Stock sizes and landings have declined dramatically in the past 25 years. For many commercially important demersal (bottom-living) stocks, such as cod and haddock, the numbers of mature fish are now less than half those of the early 1970s. Without urgent and substantial reform of the CFP, many fish stocks now look likely to collapse. The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) suggests that the level of fishing mortality on the most important Community fish stocks needs to be reduced by between one-third and one-half, depending on the species, type of fishery, and fishing area concerned.

·  Over-capacity

The fishing capacity of the Community fleet far exceeds that required to harvest the available fish stocks in a sustainable manner. The economic incentive to use this excessive capacity is considerable, and has impeded all attempts to reduce fishing effort by the amounts needed to achieve effective conservation. There have moreover been continual improvements in the efficiency (and thus the effective fishing power) of the fleet as a whole (a process known as "technology creep"), which has further seriously exacerbated this problem.

·  Economic Fragility

Most of the Community fisheries sector faces poor financial profitability and steadily declining employment. Over the period 1990-1998, there has been a loss of 66,000 jobs in the catching sector, an overall decrease of 22 per cent. Over the same period employment in the processing sector has decreased by 14 per cent.[5]

·  Poor enforcement

Current control and enforcement arrangements have been insufficient to ensure an equitable approach across the Union, undermining the credibility of the CFP and seriously reducing any incentive for individual fishermen to comply with the regulations.

·  Non-inclusive governance

Stakeholders have not been sufficiently involved in policy formation. This lack of involvement has undermined support for and compliance with the conservation measures adopted.

3. A second consultation process followed the launch of the Green Paper. According to the Commission, a clear consensus emerged that the CFP needed radical reform in order to reverse the disastrous decline in important fish stocks and to provide economic sustainability to the fisheries sector. Nonetheless, the "Roadmap" for CFP reform that the Commission finally published in May 2002 proved instantly controversial.[6]

4. In total, the Commission will have published 18 documents concerned with fisheries reform between May 2002 and the middle of 2003. Among these are Communications and Action Plans on topics including conservation of fish stocks in the Mediterranean, fishing on the high seas, fisheries with third countries, control and enforcement, and aquaculture (see Box 2 below). The three most important documents, however, were the three legislative proposals included in the May 2002 package. The most controversial of these was the proposed new basic Regulation.[7] The other two proposals related to financial aid to the EU fisheries.[8]

5. At the heart of the Commission proposals was the intention to introduce a more coherent fisheries management policy, combining traditional fisheries management tools (catch limits, gear restrictions etc) with a more effective fleet management policy to ensure a balance between fishing effort and resource availability. The main instrument for integrating these measures was to be long-term stock management plans. These would secure greater stability for the sector and reduce the risk of stock collapse, while moving away from the highly political yearly negotiations on catch limits. The Commission also emphasised that the CFP would take greater account of the ecosystems of which commercial fish stocks are part.

6. While the original proposals were well received by many, including this Committee[9] and environmental interests in particular, they were fiercely opposed by others. The six so-called "Friends of Fishing" countries—Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Portugal and Ireland—decried the measures as draconian. The ensuing five day long Council was "agonising . . . , with some very difficult choices to make".[10] In order to secure agreement, significant compromises were made in many areas, including fleet policy, the use of subsidies and the introduction of management planning.

7. The reformed CFP is the result of over four years of analysis and consultation, but it has in our view been emasculated by the back-sliding compromises made by the Council. The present Report evaluates whether the reformed CFP has any chance of succeeding where the previous policy failed, namely in providing a sustainable future both for the fish stocks and the fisheries which depend upon them.[11] The following chapter looks at the key elements of reform as contained in the new basic Regulation. The third chapter considers a crucial aspect for the long-term reform of the CFP which was not contained in the new Regulation—economic management of the fisheries. Throughout this Report reference is made to the evidence printed. Our witnesses are listed in Appendix 2, and we thank them all for their contributions. We are also greatly indebted to our Specialist Adviser, Professor John Shepherd FRS.
Box 2

The CFP reform process

On 20 December 2002, three new Regulations were agreed on by the Fisheries Council (outlined in more detail in Box 3):

·  Council Regulation (EC) No.2371/2002 on the conservation and sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources under the Common Fisheries Policy (the new basic Regulation)

·  Council Regulation (EC) No. 2369/2002 amending Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector

·  Council Regulation (EC) No 2370/2002 establishing an emergency Community measure for scrapping fishing vessels

The Commission must now present proposals for measures to implement the decisions adopted in December 2002 by the Council.

Commission Proposals since May 2002

·  An Action Plan to ensure the sustainability of fisheries in the Mediterranean (COM(2002)535). The measures include: a concerted approach to declaring fisheries protection zones, the use of fishing effort as the main instrument in fisheries management, improving fishing techniques so as to reduce the adverse impact on stocks and the marine ecosystem and promoting international co-operation.

·  For the first time ever, a strategy for the sustainable development of European aquaculture (COM(2002)511). This strategy is designed to strengthen the role of aquaculture in providing jobs and in supplying quality fisheries products in a way that does not harm the environment.

·  An Action Plan to integrate environmental protection requirements into the CFP (COM(2002)186). A proposal to protect sharks foreseen in this Plan is currently before the Council. Also as part of this Action Plan, in the Summer 2003, the Commission will propose measures to minimise by-catches of cetaceans in fishing gear.

·  An Action Plan to eradicate illegal fishing (COM (2002)180).

·   Measures to counter the social, economic and regional consequences of fleet restructuring (COM(2002)600. In addition to the measures already in place under the Structural Funds, the proposed actions mainly concern the reprogramming of structural aid in favour of reduction of fleet capacity and social measures, the improvement of the image of the sector and support for sustainable coastal development.

·  The reduction of discards of fish (COM(2002)656) The measures proposed aim to prevent catches of unwanted fish, particularly immature fish and to remove incentives for discarding.

·  The creation of a single inspection structure (COM(2003)130) to ensure the pooling of Community and national inspection and monitoring resources.

Commission Communications since May 2002

·  The setting up of partnership agreements with third countries (COM(2002)637). This Communication looks at ways of improving fisheries agreements, in particular those concluded with developing coastal states by promoting international co-operation and strengthening measures to ensure sustainable fisheries in the waters of the partner concerned

·  The improvement of scientific and technical advice for fisheries managers (COM(2003)625). The Commission identifies two main ways to achieve this: by reorganising the provision of scientific advice and by devoting more resources to obtaining the advice.

Still to come in 2003

·  Action Plan on improving stock evaluation in non-Community waters; Communication on transparency, performance and compliance in the enforcement of CFP rules in the EU; and a Code of Conduct for responsible fisheries in Europe.

1   Article 14 of Council Regulation (EEC) 3760/92 of 20 December 1992 establishing a Community Framework for fisheries and aquaculture, OJ L 389, 31.12.1992, p 1. Back

2   COM (2001) 135 Final, 20.3.2001. Back

3   Select Committee on the European Union, Session 2000-01, 3rd Report, HL Paper 12. That Report, like this one, was prepared by Sub­Committee D, whose current members are listed in Appendix 1. Back

4   As summarised by the "Roadmap for the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policies" published by the Commission in May 2002, COM(2002)181. Back

5   Commission figures available on DG Fisheries web-site: (as at 11 March 2003). Back

6   "Roadmap for the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policies" published by the Commission in May 2002, COM(2002)181. Back

7   Proposal for a Council Regulation on the sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources (COM (2002) 185). Back

8   Proposal for a Council Regulation amending Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector (COM (2002) 187); Proposal for a Council Regulation establishing an emergency Community measure for scrapping fishing vessels (COM (2002) 190). Back

9   House of Lords European Union Committee: Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy: The Current Crisis over Fish Stocks, 2nd Report, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 16. Back

10   Elliot Morley, Q 1. Back

11   We welcome the decision by the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution to conduct a study into the environmental effects of marine fisheries. Details of the study (for which evidence has been invited by 30 May 2003) are at The Royal Commission has commented: "Fisheries are, in the view of many, one of the major causes of damage to the marine environment but the extent, and even the existence, of such damage is disputed. This is an opportune time to consider the wide environmental consequences of fisheries. We are moving from the hunter-gatherer stage of exploiting the ocean's resources towards farming the oceans. Arguably we are at much the same point with fisheries as we were with agriculture after the second world war. Technological advances and economic pressures are leading to an intensification, which has the potential to wreak as much damage on the oceans as intensive agriculture has on land over recent decades. With agriculture we asked the wrong question-how to maximise the production of food, instead of looking at the wider functions of the rural environment, with their rich inter-dependencies. We must try to ensure that the problems that could arise with intensive fisheries are foreseen, so that they can be avoided." Back

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