Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee calls for a sea change in EU fisheries policy

24 February 2012

An influential group of back-bench MPs (the Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee)  has concluded that radical reform is needed to ensure that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) delivers for the fish, the fishermen, and the coastal communities that depend on them.

"Centralised micro-management by Brussels has failed UK fishermen", says Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Anne McIntosh MP.

"Member States must have greater say over fisheries policy in their own waters", adds McIntosh, "so we are calling on Government to press for a more ambitious reform that genuinely brings power back to Member States".

In a report published today, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee examines the EU's proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which sparked a public outcry last year over the amounts of fish discarded.  

The Committee notes that the Commission has baulked at repatriation of fishing policy through a full-scale Treaty change but highlights an alternative.

"We have trawled the legislation and found a ground-breaking way to bring back aspects of fisheries policy through amending the EU regulations without requiring a Treaty change. Now it's up to UK Government to make bold moves to bring decision-making over fisheries policy closer to coastal communities and the people whose livelihoods depend on it,"

says McIntosh.

"Countries across Europe recognise the failings of the CFP. Greater autonomy over fishing policy will be welcomed by many Member States and so we call on the Government to build alliances with like-minded countries to bring about the necessary reforms"

adds McIntosh.

MPs also question whether the EU Commission’s proposal for a ban on the discarding of fish at sea will prove effective.

Commenting further, Anne McIntosh says that

"everyone is appalled by revelations about the levels of discarding. We heard first-hand from fishermen in Hastings how frustrating it is for them to have to throw back perfectly good cod into the sea

The Commission is right to want to tackle this, but we are concerned that a knee-jerk reaction to the public outcry will do more harm than good. The last thing that we want to see is unwanted fish in the sea becoming unwanted fish in landfill".

Instead, the Committee argues for a more gradual approach built on a sound science base and the local experience of fishermen to find workable solutions to the discard problem that has blighted European fisheries.

Echoing its earlier report, the Committee also urges Defra not to abandon its commitment to domestic fisheries reform that delivers a fairer deal to small-scale fishermen. The Committee proposes a novel mechanism to reallocate unused fishing rights from 'slipper skippers' to active fishermen.


  • The European Commission published a package of proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) regulations on 13 July 2011. The proposals are currently being considered by the European Parliament and Council under the co-decision procedure.
  • Stakeholders, national governments and the Commission itself wish to decentralise the CFP and deliver a more local approach to fisheries management. However this is hampered by the EU’s exclusive competence over the conservation of marine resources under the CFP as only the EU can make rules regarding fisheries conservation. Member States cannot, unless they have been specifically empowered to do so by the EU.
  • The EFRA Committee has identified a means to interpret the EU’s exclusive competence over certain aspects of fisheries policy to allow Member States to act independently. This can be done by amending the CFP regulation itself; it would not require Treaty change. The Committee argues that this approach would give Member States genuine freedom and responsibility and would set clear boundaries to the Commission' role.
  • The Commission has mandated Member States to bring in a system of long-term fishing rights known as Transferable Fishing Concessions (TFCs). The EFRA Committee' earlier report on domestic fisheries (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee, Implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy: Domestic Fisheries Management, Sixth Report of Session 2010–12, HC 858, 3 June 2011) highlighted the problem of 'slipper skippers’- organisations that trade fishing quota but do not actively fish. The EFRA Committee argues that introducing TFCs could make this undesirable situation worse. In this report, the Committee calls for a siphon mechanism to reallocate fishing rights away from slipper skippers and hand it back to active fishermen, who are the lifeblood of many coastal communities. The Committee's report also emphasises the need to protect small-scale fishermen by keeping them outside a market-based system of fishing rights as this could lead to excessive fleet consolidation.
  • The Commission wants to implement a discard ban on many commercial species starting in 2014. The EFRA Committee recommends that more time is needed to build up the science base underpinning the ban and encourage more selective fishing methods. In addition, as the EFRA Committee's Domestic Fisheries Management report emphasises, British consumers must be encouraged to try unusual species. Today's report calls on the Government to lead by example by serving more of these less well-known species in its own canteens.

Further Information

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