Why have European countries agreed a common fisheries policy?
Fish have the unfortunate habit of swimming from one country’s waters to another. So managing fish stocks, and preventing overfishing, have to be done jointly. Even Norway, which is outside the EU, has to negotiate its quotas with the EU.
Most fish caught in the UK are exported for sale on the continent. Unlike Norway’s exports, ours are tariff-free.
Grimsby, in my constituency, is the EU’s largest fish market. Fish processed there is sold all over Europe.
The Common Fisheries Policy
The Common Fisheries Policy, or ‘CFP’, is essentially a set of agreed rules for managing European fishing fleets and for conserving fish stock, aiming to ensure that the industry is sustainable over the long term.
It was previously one of the worst-run EU policies, but agreement was reached on a complete overhaul in 2013. Implementing measures are still being negotiated.
The reformed CFP has been hailed as a significant improvement, with even Greenpeace welcoming it as “the solution to many of the struggles facing local fishermen”.
Quotas are agreed annually by national ministers, determining how much of each species can be caught in a certain area. The quotas are based on the total fish safely available (Total Allowable Catch) and on each country’s traditional share (a percentage).
Each country is then responsible for policing its own quota.
Different countries distribute their quota among fishers using different systems. The system chosen by the UK has been controversial because small ‘inshore’ boats represent the vast bulk of the local fishing fleet, but the UK government has allocated them a very small proportion (around 6%) of overall fishing opportunities.
The new CFP works on the principle of basing policies on scientific data.
It says that the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for each species should always be respected, and that multi-annual, multi-species plans should be agreed for each sea — rather than only annual quotas for each species. Baltic, North Sea and North-West Atlantic should be agreed in the first half of 2016.
The aim is for depleted fish stocks to recover by 2020. This is not just a matter of conservation: bigger stocks ultimately produce higher yields for fishers. For instance, North Sea cod stocks and some others have recently recovered, and this was then recognised in a significant boost in quotas for many species caught by UK fishers.
However, some species are still threatened. One in particular is wild sea bass (for both commercial and recreational fishers). Despite pressures from Labour MEPs, neither a quota nor a multi-annual management plan has been proposed for bass. Instead, emergency measures have been adopted, including a ban for the first six months of the year followed by restrictions on the amount that can be caught, even for anglers.
We are phasing in a ban on discards, ushering in a ‘landing obligation’, i.e. a requirement that all fish caught are landed.
TV chef Hugh Fearnley‐Whittingstall was helpful in achieving this — his campaign to prevent fish being thrown back into the sea garnered support from nearly a million people.
Maritime and Fisheries Fund
The EU has a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to aid the European fishing industry to modernise.
In the UK, it is run by the Marine Management Organisation and Marine Scotland. They fund:
- improving health and safety on fishing vessels
- developing ways to use unwanted catches
- investment in fishing ports, landing sites, auction halls and shelters
- processing of fishery and aquaculture products
- investment in aquaculture.
Improving practices around the world
The EU influences fishing abroad through bilateral agreements and due to its role in setting trade rules.
It is very active in trying to prevent ‘pirate’ fishing (known as IUU: illegal, unreported and unregulated). This is a big problem in countries like Thailand, where discarded fish can be up to 75% of the total catch. The UK consumes over €153 million of Thai fish each year. Recently the EU warned Thailand that trade restrictions would be put in place unless improvements were made.
A similar process has resulted in South Korea and Philippines cleaning up their act.
Although fishing issues are important at EU level (and the relevant legislation is adopted by the European Parliament and the Council), Nigel Farage attended only one out of 42 meetings of Parliament’s fisheries committee in the two and a half years he was a member.