The House of Lords European Union Committee have today called for a radical reorientation of the way fisheries are managed in the EU, pressing for the current over-centralised and top-down legislative process to be overhauled into a system that gives regional stakeholders a greater role.     

In their report, The Progress of the Common Fisheries Policy, the Committee conclude that the CFP’s ‘dismal reputation’ is warranted on several counts: an intricate and extensive regulatory regime has failed to protect fish stocks; compliance is poor and enforcement uneven; many segments of EU fishing fleets experience poor profitability; and fisheries management is carried out through an over-centralised, top-down legislative process that has alienated stakeholders and overburdened the European Commission.  

The report examines the impact of the 2002 reform of the CFP and concludes that, on most indicators, that reform has failed. The Committee argue that the root cause of the CFP’s poor performance on biological and economic indicators has been EU Member States’ reluctance to bring the size of their fishing fleets into line with available fishing opportunities. It notes that the UK has demonstrated a much greater commitment to getting the balance right than other Member States, and praises the decommissioning that has taken place in Scotland.

The Committee advocates a fundamental change in emphasis in the way fisheries are governed, proposing that central EU institutions should only set strategic objectives, and allow regional management bodies to take the lead in devising strategies for achieving them. The Committee envisages that this approach would promote both better management, adapted to regional circumstances, and better compliance, through the prior influence of local stakeholders on rules adopted. It views the establishment of Regional Advisory Councils – a development arising from the 2002 reform of the CFP – and the piloting of voluntary measures, such as the Scottish Conservation Credits Scheme, as promising steps in this direction.

The Committee dismisses the prospect of withdrawing from the CFP as a credible policy option, and warns that it is a dangerous distraction from the more important task of reforming the policy that is in place.

The report argues that the core objective of the Common Fisheries Policy should be to bring fishing capacity and fishing opportunities into balance. Public aid, such as European Fisheries Fund grants, should primarily be channelled into attractive decommissioning schemes and the economic diversification of fisheries-dependent coastal communities.

Other recommendations in the report include:

*    Wherever possible, control and enforcement measures should seek to work with fishermen’s incentives to encourage good behaviour, for example as in the Scottish Conservation Credits Scheme.
*    Where punishment is needed it should be consistent across Member States – the Committee recommend a penalty points system where infringements are penalised with points leading to a temporary and eventually permanent suspension of fishing rights.
*    Other Member States should ensure that they have implemented and are enforcing compulsory registration of buyers and sellers of first sale fish, which has all but eliminated demand for black (illegal) fish in the UK.
*    The Committee support the principle of a discard ban and endorse the European Commission’s aim of progressively reducing maximum allowed by-catch limits to zero.
*    The Committee regards the trading of fishing rights at national level as highly desirable, and supports further moves towards rights-based management within Member States.

Commenting Lord Sewel, who chaired the Lords EU Sub-Committee on Environment and Agriculture, said:

"On the most critical indicator – the state of fish stocks in EU waters, on which the livelihoods of the fishing industry ultimately depend – the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy has failed to turn the tide."

"There is a very strong case for more decentralised fisheries management – buy-in from those directly affected is essential to improving both the quality of the regulatory regime and compliance with its provisions."

"It is vital that Member States should resist calls for subsidies to offset fishing vessels’ rising operating costs. Public funds should instead be spent on attractive decommissioning schemes and on the economic diversification of coastal area, so as to offer fishermen and their communities a real alternative."

The report is available online at http://www.parliament.uk/parliamentary_committees/lords_s_comm_d.cfm