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Experience since reform of the common fisheries policy in 2002 has been characterised by the following: overcapacity in the fishing fleets of the member states, with a balance not being achieved between the number of fish in the sea and the fishing effort put in; poor compliance; uneven enforcement; a legislative process that continues to be stiflingly prescriptive; and ongoing depletion of fish stocks. That is a very severe indictment of the common fisheries policy as it stands today. Why is that? At the kernel we have to recognise that some member states-I emphasise "some"-have been reluctant to bring the size of their fishing fleets into line with available fishing opportunities. We identified this reluctance as the root cause of the poor performance on biological and economic indicators. That mismatch between, on the one hand, the size and effort of the fishing fleets of the member states and, on the other, the actual safe take from the seas is the root cause of the problem. The response has been an overcentralised legislative process that has been doubly flawed: alienating stakeholders and stretching the Commission's resources to the limit.
We were pleased to see that analysis of the failure of the 2002 reforms and the cause of that failure largely echoed in the recent Green Paper from the European Commission. Therefore, there is a degree of commonality between our analysis and that of the Commission. In large part, the steps that we recommended in our report for improving and reforming the common fisheries policy are now being advocated by the Commission itself, and we hope that the Government will be able to come into line behind that in very large measure. I think that that shows the influence of your Lordships' House.
I should like to summarise our recommendations but I also want to make it clear that in our report we explicitly stated that the prospect of withdrawing from the common fisheries policy was not a credible policy option with the restrictions of the EC treaty and European law. We should simply not waste our energies in arguing over options that, frankly, cannot be seriously contemplated. Instead, we should work for a better policy framework and put in place a new and more appropriate common fisheries policy that secures sustainable fisheries for the future.
Perhaps I may go into detail on a particular point. It is rightly asked how we can improve matters. There are a number of issues here. One is that we received overwhelming evidence from our witnesses that the compulsory registration of buyers and sellers of first-sale fish had almost eliminated the demand for black fish-a problem that has bedevilled the fishing industry for many years. We therefore urge all member states to
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If you get the balance right between the exploitation of fish numbers and the catching ability of the fleets, you can at last establish a common identity among fishermen that they have a real stake in the future of their fisheries and you can develop a culture of compliance. At the end of the day, if the stakeholders-the primary stakeholders are the fishermen-do not sign up to that culture of compliance, you are left with a process of evasion and avoidance, which has been the problem with the common fisheries policy as it has developed.
In that context, I give genuine credit to the Scottish conservation credits scheme, which is a means of providing carrots rather than sanctions, and a means by which fishermen are rewarded by recognising real-time closures and adopting conservation measures, such as more selective fishing gear. In return they receive the same number of days at sea as they received in 2007, 2008 and 2009, thereby avoiding cuts. If there is that sort of genuine interaction between the various elements at the centre and the periphery of the industry-I do not use those terms disparagingly-there is a chance of establishing sustainable fishing.
I have two final points. We have a problem in terms of enforcement and compliance in member states. I wish that we could enhance the role of the Community Fisheries Control Agency. It is important that it is the inspector of the inspectors, making sure that the member states do their job in enforcement. There is sufficient evidence showing-I shall use a somewhat diplomatic term-a degree of difference in the rigour with which enforcement is carried out across member states, which must be put right quickly.
I know that I have spoken longer than I should, and I shall come to my conclusion. Our review left us in no doubt that the main cause of the 2002 reforms' failure has been member states' reluctance to cut national fishing fleets to match the fishing opportunities available. Some have and some have not. I live in the north-east of Scotland and am aware of what has happened to the Scottish fishing fleet. On a European level, subsidies can assist that process but too often they have been used to offset rising costs. We need to move towards a much greater degree of decentralised fisheries management. We must use the experience of the regional advisory committees and involve the stakeholders. The big issues of the strategic levels of depletion of stocks should be set centrally at Brussels, and the implementation and management should be a regional question with regional enforcement. Let the fishermen have greater control of their own futures. That is how to head towards a sustainable fisheries policy.
Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I, too, served on Sub-Committee D during this investigation. I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen the film "The End of the Line", based on the
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Unfortunately, it appears to be hard for fishermen to consider the long-term future of making it possible for their children to have a career in the fishing industry. This so-called tragedy of the common fisheries policy is well described in paragraph 6 of our report, which states:
"Prudent harvesting by one fisherman, with a view to protecting the stock, will most likely only yield larger catches for other, less restrained, fishermen. Hence the incentive is to grab one's share as quickly as possible while the resource is still available".
That is the piscatorial equivalent of "Shop now while stocks last"-and it is quite possible that they will not. As a result of this phenomenon, more than 80 per cent of the stocks evaluated by ICES are overexploited. As a result, fishermen now use two to four times the fuel that they did 30 years ago per tonne of fish caught. Over 90 per cent of cod is caught before the fish have the chance to breed once, and so it goes on.
While one might sympathise with the fishermen who are trying to protect their immediate livelihood, I have less sympathy with politicians who protect their short-term electoral interests by siding with their fishermen, even though they must know that they are behaving irresponsibly. We had a good example of this last year when fuel costs went up. That was an ideal opportunity to up the rewards for decommissioning vessels, but did this happen? Not on your Nelly. Under pressure from politicians in member states, and perhaps because of everyone being fazed by blockading fishermen, the Commission actually had to give €600 million to help fisheries to adapt to rising fuel prices.
Our report covers a whole range of recommendations to improve the situation, not least of which is the giving of more responsibility and resources to the regional advisory councils, which I very much support. In this short intervention, however, I just want to deal with the question of overcapacity, which to me is the key issue and perhaps the most controversial.
The Swedish representative told us that the Swedes had a 30 per cent overcapacity in their pelagic fleet and a 50 per cent overcapacity in the rest. This situation is not unique to Sweden, but the Swedes are perhaps special in that they actually admit it. Having said that, I must give credit to UK fishermen, particularly Scottish fishermen, who have done much to reduce their capacity. The Scots succeeded in decommissioning about 65 per cent of their white fish fleet in the early years of this century. As a result, as we were told and saw with our own eyes in Peterhead, there is a new degree of optimism and confidence in the remaining fleet. It is a pity that more member states seem unable to endure the pain in order to gain.
Commissioner Borg told us that only 20 to 25 per cent of member state aid currently goes towards decommissioning, which must be a good example of sticking one's head in the sand and ignoring the very real needs of the next generation. I am tempted to comment that maybe people are looking for the fast vanishing sand eels. As well as a ban on all subsidies, apart from for decommissioning, I believe that other actions could also help to reduce capacity.
The first is to have a degree of individual transferability of quota on a more permanent basis than just the in-year leasing that currently exists. The Swedes say that their aim is to turn over the resource to the fishermen and allow them to decide whether they want to try to stay in the market or to sell it for a reasonable price. That way, the market controls the capacity. It would also mean that a tighter quota would not be all pain for fishermen, because a tighter quota might actually raise the value of the remaining quota. Furthermore, the fishermen themselves would become their own policemen because they would not want their colleagues to take for free what they themselves had paid for.
It is worth saying that, in the interests of relative stability, I do not believe that permanent transfers of quota should be allowed between member states. However, within a member state, a region or a producing organisation, if you prefer, I see no reason why they should not be permitted. It is of course essential in such a system that member states should not issue any new fishing licences where no quota exists and that they should be active in the marketplace, buying in quota where necessary, to take it out of circulation. It might be possible for the Commission, when it wishes to reduce quota, just to buy some of it in and thus not put all the cost of reduced catch on to the fishermen.
The final essential piece of the jigsaw is to work towards the total banning of discards. I realise that this is controversial, but discards at a rate as high as 50 per cent in some species in some waters are a PR and scientific disgrace for the fishing industry. I was quite taken by the Norwegian enforcement of a total discard ban. It requires greater enforcement costs, but then more rigorous policing is needed anyway for the current policy. At sea, it is possible to see for some time afterwards whether a boat has been discarding fish. Equally in Norway it is an imprisonable offence not to submit an accurate landing note. While the Government there are happy to pay for the landing costs of over-quota fish, which is a small percentage of the real value, they then deduct the quantity of excess fish from the overall national quota in that species. So again catches of excess quota become pretty unpopular among other fishermen.
To summarise, if the tragedy of the Commons prevents the fishermen from taking a cautious long-term view, it should not prevent politicians from focusing on how to feed their nation in 20 or 30 years' time-I speak in this House frequently on the problem of agricultural produce in terms of what the situation will be like in 20 or 30 years' time-as opposed to worrying about their electoral popularity in two or three years' time. There should be a total ban on any aid to the fishing industry apart from for decommissioning.
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While our report on the common fisheries policy was comprehensive and thorough-as our chairman has reported, it was thoroughly respected by the Commission-and nothing that I have mentioned tonight is not discussed therein, I have a feeling in retrospect that we were not quite bold enough in setting out a new and better way forward. In the end, of course, it will be the consumers and the voters who influence change. I hope that, as a result of recent publicity, they are now becoming sufficiently aware to do just that.
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch: My Lords, I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this important, if belated, debate. It is a sad fact that, when I reread our report, it became clear that its recommendations are still relevant today. In other words, progress as ever with reform of the common fisheries policy remains painfully slow. I, too, thank our chairman, my noble friend Lord Sewel, who guided us towards our conclusions with an enviable balance of intelligence, common sense and wit.
I would like to concentrate my comments this evening on the issue at the heart of our report: how can the EU move away from its legacy of decades of overfishing and move to a sustainable fishing regime? Overall, the picture across the EU remains dire, with short-term economic considerations consistently taking priority over stock recovery. As we have heard, the Commission itself has warned that 88 per cent of stocks are overfished as a result of total allowable catches being set too far above scientific advice on sustainable levels.
The fact is that the EU fishing fleet is still too big, so there is huge overcapacity. Despite encouragements to decommission, the fishing fleet capacity is diminishing by only 2 to 3 per cent a year. Meanwhile, the Commission estimates that technological improvements have increased catching power by similar rates. However, these figures hide wide variations in the approach of member states. As part of our inquiry, we visited Peterhead, which is one of the biggest fishing ports in the UK. It was instructive on a number of counts.
First, we learnt that the UK has successfully cut back its fleet by 11 per cent. This had made the remaining fleet more profitable and, as a result, the Scottish fishermen were, as we have heard, making enough money to begin renewing their fleet and were seeing a positive future for their industry. Secondly, the Scottish fishermen to whom we spoke were persuasive in their commitment to sustainability. They were already taking voluntary steps to control overfishing through closing sea areas, particularly spawning and nursery areas. They were clearly committed to taking a long-term approach to the availability of stock. Thirdly, they were taking a proactive approach to working with stakeholders and building up credible regional fishing strategies through their involvement with regional advisory councils.
Unfortunately-I do not wish to sound too partisan-many of the representatives from other member states whom we interviewed were less keen to address the problem of overfishing. For some, the preservation of their fishing fleet has taken on a symbolic national importance. This is despite the fact that fishing represents less than 1 per cent of the gross national product of EU member states and less than 1 per cent of employment.
One of the totemic features of the failed fisheries policy-it is the one that causes consumers the most disquiet-is the number of discards taking place across the EU, including the UK. Our report suggests that between 10 and 60 per cent of fish and marine organisms are thrown back in the sea, usually dead. Commissioner Borg confirmed that discards of flat fish can reach up to 60 or 70 per cent.
While there are many reasons for discarding fish, including the catch being unmarketable or not included in the trawler's quota, the Commission acknowledged that large amounts of discarded dead fish were the undersized juvenile fish, which should have been left undisturbed to breed the next generation of fish. Instead, the overexploitation of the stocks means that there are few large fish left in the sea and the fish stocks are dominated by the small fish that are banned from being landed but are nevertheless caught and therefore dumped before they have time to breed. Therefore, sustainability becomes increasingly unachievable.
Our report recommends a number of measures to address this problem, but ultimately I concur with my noble friend that a discard ban has to be the way forward. We heard how this had operated successfully in Norway. As Dr Horwood, the CEFAS chief scientific adviser, argued, such a ban would be extremely helpful, as it would scare people into deciding that they really must do something about the issue.
Although the EU has, as yet, failed to address this problem effectively or to deliver the much needed radical overhaul of the common fisheries policy, other commercial and consumer changes are taking place that could yet force Governments and the EU to face up to their responsibilities. We took some interesting evidence from Mr Cliff Morrison, chair of the Food and Drink Federation's seafood group. He described how consumers were increasingly changing their eating habits to support sustainable fishing. He also described how investors, fish processors and retailers were intervening directly in the market to ensure that any purchases came from sustainable sources. They understood that, apart from the ethical issues, there was a commercial interest in having longer-term sustainability. Consumer power could therefore play a role in changing markets and changing policy.
However, as with all these things, it turns out that nothing is that simple. The sustainability of the EU stock is only one part of a complex global picture. Mr Morrison described a fascinating picture of fish and fish products crossing continents. In essence, the UK exports what it catches and imports what we eat. Ninety per cent of the mackerel and herring that we catch goes eastwards towards Japan. Much of the Scottish white fish and shellfish goes to the Mediterranean, particularly Spain. Those holidaymakers tucking into
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Meanwhile, in the UK, the British shoppers tend to buy their fish in chilled supermarket pre-packs. In order for this to happen, for example, Icelandic cod is caught, frozen on the vessels, shipped on container boats to China to be filleted and then returned to the UK to be processed or packed. That may be sustainable, but it has added up a good few food miles. Worse, the UK's penchant for tuna means that the tuna loins are flown in from the Indian Ocean, adding even more to our carbon footprint.
Food labelling has some way to go before it can enable consumers to make intelligent decisions about the fish that they eat, although clearly the Marine Stewardship Council is playing an important role in this regard. It may ultimately fall to the markets, the environmental lobby and consumers to deliver the pressure necessary to achieve a sustainable fishing stock, as so far the EU and its member states have not shown the appetite for radical reform in this sector. In fact, one of the more depressing aspects of our inquiry was that many of the senior people whom we interviewed understood the scale of the problem but lacked the political will to act.
In conclusion, I commend our report. I hope that the Minister will feel able to endorse our recommendations and give a commitment that the UK will challenge the collective inaction of the EU and fight for a truly sustainable fishing policy before it is too late.
Lord Dykes: My Lords, like other members of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, has become an expert on this subject, and we thank her for her insights into the literal insanity of the worldwide transport movement of fish that she so graphically described. In that context, there is a London configuration here. I am thinking of last week's initiative by the Fisheries Minister in another place and sections of the London press to promote knowledge of the "true price of fish"-that is the new phrase-in shops, including supermarkets as well as smaller shops, and restaurants and the future of certain stocks which are overfished. Without doubt the general public, who are anxious to eat more fish in the future rather than too much meat, are cottoning on to the fate of rapidly threatened stocks. The Minister quite rightly called on supermarkets and restaurants to stop offering vulnerable species until the overfishing had stopped and stocks had recovered. He said that there is a government commitment that by 2012 we bring forward proposals on an ecologically coherent network of marine conservation zones and that it is our duty to replenish our stocks.
This has been a good but short debate on an immensely complex subject based on a densely packed report from the committee. We thank the noble Lord, Lord Sewel, and the other committee members for what they are suggesting. There is a bound to be a meeting of minds on this matter because of the quality of the report and because it is pragmatic common sense for people to come together on these collective solutions.
The EU has been struggling for quite a while to try and get rational solutions for a viable long-term future, so I welcome most of what is said in the report. I shall not repeat some of the detailed matters, but I shall refer to some of the broad themes as time allows. The substantial, erudite and sometimes passionate body of evidence was impressive indeed.
Years ago in Hollywood, Cecil B DeMille was credited with defining the ideal film as one that starts with an earthquake and builds up to a real climax. Unfortunately, that cannot be done with this subject as it just goes on and on. The trouble with the CFP is that you cannot single out a particular moment. It is hugely complicated and long drawn out, even for the experts. Furthermore, it is politically supercharged in a way that is perilous for politicians, as we know, in this country and elsewhere.
In the years up to 1997, successive Governments avoided the ecological aspects in favour of nationalistic schmoozing of the sector, but that eventually had to be replaced by a more realistic analysis for which the EU Commission should take some credit. It has got better at this business in recent times.
There are not good guys and bad guys in the common fisheries policy. The entire industry has overfished for years because livelihood was understandably the priority. Fishermen were regarded as heroic figures in most country's newspapers and overlarge catches were meant to bring lower prices for customers. Now, at last, we can come to a more sensible position, partly thanks to the high-quality suggestions in this outstanding report and the Government's response. I hope that the Minister will have time today to refer to page 4 of the Government's response to the report. The Government did not say what their attitude is towards the committee's recommendation that the WTO should be involved in outlawing subsidies or harmonising a system of subsidies that are acceptable to everybody under international trade rules. I assume they agree, but I would like that confirmed, if possible.
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