Defra has a once-in-a-decade opportunity to reform the European Union Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to ensure that it delivers for the fish, the fishermen, and the coastal communities that depend on them. We welcome the European Commission's recognition that the current CFP is not meeting its objectives. However, we are concerned that the Commission is embarking on this journey without a clear plan for achieving its aims, without the scientific data needed to back these up, and before building political will and grassroots support. We need workable solutions as well as laudable ambitions.
The centralised micro-management of fisheries by the European institutions has been widely criticised. The essential first step is to improve the CFP's governance through a more ambitious programme of decentralisation. The Commission believes that the EU's exclusive competence over the conservation of marine resources restricts the extent to which powers can be passed back to Member States. However, we have identified a lawful means of qualifying the EU's exclusive competence through amending the CFP Regulation itself, without requiring Treaty change. This could deliver an effective 'locally as possible' approach to fisheries management in line with the ambitions of stakeholders, national governments, and the Commission itself. We recommend that Defra pursue this opportunity further.
We strongly support the Commission's desire to minimise discarding rates. We welcome the proposal to move from landing quotas, which legitimise discards, to catch quotas, which provide an incentive for fishermen to fish more selectively. However, we are concerned that by deciding to implement a discard ban swiftly and without full engagement with stakeholders, the Commission risks creating a scheme that will be unworkable, or worse, will merely shift unwanted fish in the sea to unwanted fish on land. Moreover, we are concerned that survival rates after discarding have not been assessed for all the species covered by the proposed ban and so the ban could have perverse environmental impacts. We propose delaying the discard ban until 2020 to give time to do the groundwork for its successful implementation. This is not an excuse to ignore the discard problemeffective and proactive measures must be put in place in the mean time to incentivise more selective fishing.
Overcapacity of the fleet is a major factor contributing to overfishing. At the same time, traditional fishing activities are the lifeblood of many coastal communities. Defra must decide what shape of fishing industry it wants in future. Therefore, if the Department believes that a reduction in fleet capacity is needed, safeguards must be put in place to protect coastal communities and prevent excessive consolidation of the fleet in favour of larger operations. We propose a siphon mechanism whereby if an operator chooses to lease his fishing rights, a percentage of his allocation is returned to the national envelope. This can be reallocated to active fishermen so as to maintain traditional fishing activities in coastal communities. We further encourage Defra to press for an additional General Objective of the CFP to contribute to the socio-economic development of coastal communities.
The Commission's proposed General Objective to restore stocks to above the levels that can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield is not achievable by 2015. Setting unrealistic targets merely discourages stakeholders and makes it harder to hold the EU and Member States to account. We suggest that the Marine Strategy Framework Directive's objective of restoring commercial stocks to within safe biological limits by 2020 is a more appropriate and achievable target and recommend that Defra press for the inclusion of this commitment as the General Objective of the CFP.