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May 13, 2013

Inching towards a fisheries deal

© WWF European Policy Office


This article originally appeared in the EU Observer on May 13th, 2013.

As EU fish ministers meet in Brussels today and tomorrow (13-14 May) the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is on the brink of a crucial step in its reform process

This is where things stand: on 6 February, an overwhelming majority of MEPs supported the rapporteur on the file, German centre-left euro-deputy Ulrike Rodust, in adopting ambitious reform. In particular, they backed ensuring that fish stocks are allowed to recover to above sustainable levels and putting an end to the wasteful practice of discarding unwanted fish, which can represent up to 80 percent of the catch in some fisheries.

Two weeks later, member states finalised their own position. But their agreement makes as few changes as possible to the current way fisheries are managed, and postpones the implementation of all the most urgent measures to recover fish stocks.

Since then, the two institutions have been holding trialogue meetings, in which the parliament (led by Rodust) and the council (led by Irish minister Simon Coveney) go through their respective positions, article by article, in order to figure out how to reconcile them.

Unfortunately, these meetings have not been very fruitful, with Coveney only able to negotiate within the limits of the February general approach.

Monday’s meeting is about giving a new mandate to the Irish presidency to keep negotiating with the parliament on behalf of the member states, and to possibly seal the deal before the end of June on the most crucial and controversial elements of the reform: the stock recovery target, the discard ban, the management of fishing overcapacity and regionalisation.

These four elements are the very core of the reform.

The previous policy failed to ensure the sustainable exploitation of fish stocks to such an extent that half of fish stocks in the Atlantic and more than three quarters in the Mediterranean are still overfished.

This has led to job losses and the overuse of public money to compensate for these losses. This in turn results in mismanagement. At the same time, the lack of selectivity in fishing practices has led to discards – the catching and throwing back at sea of millions of tonnes of fish every year.

A myriad of potential outcomes

There are several possible end game scenarios, which branch out of two major outcomes: if the council does not validate a new mandate, it means they are sticking to the general approach they agreed in February and will simply forward it to the parliament to initiate the second reading.

If this occurs, it will mean that the trialogue negotiations have failed.

A second possibility is that the council does agree to a new mandate. But it is impossible to know at this point how far this mandate will go: it can range from slightly better than the February general approach (but still very bad), to much better.

It will then be up to Rodust to assess what to do with what the council is putting on the table: either continue negotiating or go to a second reading.

A last chance opportunity

On Tuesday, the curtain will rise on one of the last acts of the CFP reform, a process that started almost four years ago when the European Commission published its green paper and acknowledged the failure of the current policy.

While the outcome is still unsure, it may soon be in sight.

What is at stake is the future of European fisheries and fishermen. But it is also about what kind of European Union we want.

Member states have been at the helm of fisheries policy since the beginning of the EU, and have been unable to properly defend the interests of the general public by stopping the over-exploitation of marine resources in Europe.

With this reform, it must for the first time work with a new, equal partner – the European Parliament. The parliament does not have the same record of years of bad management, is more transparent and has more legitimacy.

Since the beginning, the parliament has taken ownership of the reform and has shown its determination to achieve a good outcome for the reform, by overwhelmingly supporting Rodust’s report and by repeating its commitment at several important votes after that. MEPs want good reform and they have the right to ask for member states to meet them half-way.