After intense and drawn out negotiations, National Environment Ministers, under the guidance of EU Commissioner Maria Damanaki, have arrived at an agreement regarding fishing quotas for the North Sea, Atlantic Ocean and Black Sea.
The new agreement will see a doubling of the north-east coast herring quota and a 150% rise in south-west cod catches. There will be also be 25% bigger catches for south-west haddock, and 15% increases each for north-east haddock and north-east and south-west whiting, and a 9% rise in Channel sole catches. The compromise means that fishing vessels will be permitted to spend fewer days at sea. These new quotas have been broadly welcomed, particularly by the UK; however, there are fears that an overall cut in days at sea will still hit struggling fleets, particularly in designated European Commission zones, where efforts to revive depleted cod stocks have only partially succeeded.
In a report published by the European Court of Auditors at the beginning of December, it was acknowledged that the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) has largely failed in its objective to reduce the overcapacity of the EU’s fishing fleets. Subsidies intended for decommissioning older ships and building new vessels that fall into line with sustainable fishing practices have been undermined. The subsidies have been underutilised and where they have been used, they have merely funded technical improvements that have increased the capacity of existing ships.
Having acknowledged that this policy has not achieved the desired outcomes, the Commission presented a proposal on 2 December. The €6.5 billion ‘Maritime and Fisheries Fund’ is the final element of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform package with new funds provided for building facilities at ports to make the best use of unwanted catches that would otherwise be discarded. Funding will also be used to promote income diversification for fishermen to encourage them to engage in other activities. Funding would be conditional on the compliance of member states and operators with the reformed CFP. Fishermen who break the rules could be made to repay aid, although in the past this has proved almost impossible to implement.
The National Ministers applauding the increased quotas have pointed to the scientific evidence as a justification for the increases; however, others do not consider this to be the case. According to an initial analysis conducted by advocacy group Oceana, the approved fishing limits ignore 41% of the ‘maximum sustainability yields’ which have been recommended by scientists to sustain fish populations. The “precautionary proposal” tabled by the Commission in November was rejected by member states, with higher quotas based on short-term national interests.
The scientific data regarding sustainable fish stocks is varied and lacks clarity. The Commission proposed a 15%-25% cut in the quotas for all fish stocks where traditional scientific information on sustainability is not available; however, this was modified by National Ministers with the bar lowered for scientific evidence qualifying as ‘good data’. It is not clear what exactly what this term constitutes.
Although fishing quotas and subsidies continue to be a contentious issue, the European Parliament took a positive step in voting to suspend the EU-Morocco fisheries accord under which the EU paid Morocco €36 million in fishing licences. A report drafted by Carl Haglund, a Finnish Liberal MEP, stated that the accord led to excessive exploitation of fish stocks and violated international law because it included the waters off Western Sahara. The EU does not recognise Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara. This is an admirable approach adopted by the EU; however, it must ensure that it is fair and equitable in its approach to setting sustainability quotas whether they are within EU waters or outside of its jurisdiction.