Leaders express concern over EU Common Fisheries plans

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IN ITS proposals for a major reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the European Commission has set out a radical approach to fisheries management in Europe.

EU Fisheries Minister, Maria Damanaki, said last week the plans will secure both fish stocks and fishermen’s livelihood for the future while putting an end to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks.

However, the proposals have been met with concern from fisheries leaders, with SFF chief executive Bertie Armstrong stating the new measures could pose a ‘serious threat’ to the future prospects of the Scottish fishing fleet.

Presenting the proposals on Wednesday, Ms Damanaki said: “Action is needed now to get all our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations. Only under this precondition can fishermen continue to fish and earn a decent living out of their activities.”

“This means that we have to manage each stock wisely, harvesting what we can but keeping the stock healthy and productive for the future. This will bring us higher catches, a sound environment and a secure seafood supply.

“If we get this reform right, fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run. And all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish, both wild and farm produced.”

But Mr Armstrong voiced his concerns at the moves, stating: “While there are some elements in the proposals that are a step in the right direction, there are other parts that are extremely worrying and could pose a serious threat to the future prospects of the Scottish fishing fleet.

“Indeed, the EC’s own impact assessment of the current proposals if they were implemented in their unmodified form is that they would result in a 20% downturn in the size of the Scottish fishing fleet and numbers of people employed in the industry – that is completely unacceptable and is why it is essential that some elements of these proposals must be revised over the coming months.

“We are also dismayed at the proposal to phase out discarding. Scottish fishermen abhor discarding, but in the complex mixed fisheries that our fleet operates in it is totally impracticable to ban discards altogether.

“Scottish fishermen have been making huge strides in reducing the amount of fish discarded in recent years by adopting conservation initiatives such as closed fishing areas and more selective fishing gear. Such a sensible strategy is working and needs to be further developed, and we will be arguing strongly that this is the most sensible and practical path to take.”

Mr Armstrong did, however, welcome the move towards greater regional control of fisheries but he said the proposals were vague at this stage and it was essential that these measures were robust and provided the opportunity for meaningful management on a local scale.

“There is a huge amount of work to be done in the coming months to ensure that the most detrimental and impracticable parts of the proposals are headed-of,” he said.

Sustainability and long-term solutions were the key points of Wednesday’s proposals which set out the following elements:

All fish stocks will have to be brought to sustainable levels by 2015, which is in line with the commitments the EU has undertaken internationally.

An ecosystem approach will be adopted for all fisheries, with long-term management plans based on the best available scientific advice.

The waste of food resources and the economic losses caused by throwing unwanted fish back into the sea, a practice known as “discarding”, will be phased-out. Fishermen will be obliged to land all the fish that they catch.

The proposals also include clear targets and timeframes to stop overfishing; market-based approaches such as individual tradable catch shares; support measures for small-scale fisheries; improved data collection; and strategies to promote sustainable aquaculture in Europe.

Consumers will be able to get better information on the quality and sustainability of the products they buy.

Commenting on the proposals, Roddy McColl, secretary of the Fishermen’s Association Limited, said: “The present EC Common Fisheries Policy is – and from its very inauguration has always been - about exploitation, not conservation or management. It has certainly worked to the advantage of one or two member states, but its overall effect otherwise has been negative and destructive.

“Not the least pernicious aspect is the extent to which a pseudo-ethical Euro-idealism has been used as a camouflage for naked national advantage.

“The current reform proposals have nothing whatever to do with conservation, but with upholding, certainly as far as fishing is concerned, what the Commission believes to be the legally binding, unbreakable demands of the EU treaties - that all species of fish within the waters of all EU maritime nations are a common resource, to which all EU member states have an equal right of access.

“FAL does not believe for one moment that the Commission will allow any decentralisation of power, which is in the vice-like grip of the Brussels bureaucracy, to the member states. 

“This is a con-trick of colossal proportions, because the Commission’s so called reform of the CFP is in reality another stepping stone to achieve the EU’s strategic aim of creating a European Union fleet and the elimination of those of the maritime Nation States

“Richard Benyon has stated that the publication of the Commission’s proposals is the start of 18 month’s negotiations with Commissioner Damanaki.

“He needs to understand that however intense these negotiations may be they will not change one word of the EU treaties which are all directed against the survival of the UK fleet.”

Meanwhile, president of the European Parliament’s fisheries committee, Struan Stevenson, condemned the reform package as “modest” and “disappointing”.

Calling on fellow MEPs to use new powers to press for a more comprehensive reform package, the Conservative MEP said: “After months of waiting, great excitement and anticipation of a radical package of reform for the CFP, these proposals have turned out to be a disappointment. They are far from the radical change needed. At best they can be described as modest.

“It looks like the bureaucrats have scored a victory, retaining the central role of Brussels in all fisheries decisions, rather than devolving day-to-day management responsibility to the Member States, as most had wanted.

“Although de-centralisation was the key recommendation arising from the extensive debate in the European Parliament on the Green Paper on CFP Reform last year, there is little reference to it in Ms Damanaki’s new package.

“Now it seems that Member States will only be allowed to decide on mesh sizes and discards policy, rather than on the wider day-to-day management policies that have bedevilled the sector.

“If anything, there even seems to be a drift towards even more centralised control. These proposals will effectively take existing powers away from the Parliament and the Council of Ministers and pass them to the Commission. And the concept of providing a basket of management options from which Member States could choose, seems to have fallen foul of the bureaucrats too, which is disappointing.”

Mr Stevenson added: “All of this reinforces my view that the way forward for the European Parliament is very clear. We have full legislative power now, in the wake of the Lisbon Treaty, and we must use our new-found muscle to push through a comprehensive reform. Our fishing communities and the future of European fish stocks deserve nothing less.

“This means that we must restore a significant level of de-centralisation and regionalisation into the reform package. Control must be wrested away from the micro-managers in Brussels. Their dead-hand over the past three decades has devastated EU fish stocks and destroyed tens of thousands of jobs in the industry.

“We must also ensure that there is no attempt to enforce a one-size fits all approach to banning discards and pursuing a policy of maximum sustainable yields (MSY). While MSY is a laudable policy worthy of support, it is unworkable in a mixed fishery. Similarly, an outright ban on discards would in some fisheries, such as nephrops, lead to greater mortality, because fishermen would be forced to land prawns that they used to throw back, alive, into the sea.

“We must not lose sight of these anomalies and I am glad that this has been recognised by the Commission in their reform package, which seeks to exempt from a discards ban any species that have a high survival rate when returned to the sea.”

He added: “We are embarking on 18 months of intensive work on this reform package and the parliament will insist on a radically reformed policy that embraces regionalisation, an ecosystem approach based on multi-annual plans, an effective policy for dealing with discards, better science, a rights-based management system that does not allow international trading of rights, support for aquaculture and the criminalisation of Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“Some of these objectives are covered by the new Commission proposals, others are not or are inadequate. But I can see that our main fight is going to be with the bureaucrats. Wresting meaningful control away from the Brussels desk-jockeys and devolving it to the stakeholders is our primary objective. We will accept nothing less.”

Expressing his concern over the proposals, SNP president Ian Hudghton said that the

Commission had failed to properly address the fundamental problems of over-centralised control and had failed to propose an adequate return of powers to fishing nations and regions.

Mr Hudghton said: “The Commission’s acceptance that the CFP has utterly failed and must be radically reformed is to be welcomed. For too long the CFP’s regulations have forced Scottish fishermen to throw fish back into the sea - and efforts to eliminate discards have long been supported by Scotland’s fishing industry

“The proposals however still smack of top-down Brussels control. The discards issue is a complex one, particularly in mixed fisheries, and solutions must be found in conjunction with the industry. Instead, the Commission has chosen arbitrary dates after which all fish must be landed.

“The Commission has previously acknowledged that fisheries within the 12-mile zones, which are controlled by the coastal nations, have generally been one of the success stories of the last 30 years. However, they have failed to take on board the key lesson to be learned from this - that the fishing nations themselves are best placed to manage their own waters in co-operation with their neighbours.

“And, while the Commission plays lip-service to historical rights, international transferable quotas would render that meaningless. Cross-border trading would result in multi-nationals snapping up fishing rights across Europe - and would destroy our fishing heritage.

“Fortunately these proposals are just the first stage in the process. The European Parliament and the Council of Ministers must now make amendments - and it is essential that all Scotland’s politicians work with the Scottish government to ensure a positive outcome.”

Chairman of the Scottish Whitefish Producers Association/Prawn Committee, skipper Jimmy Buchan, was also sceptical on the proposals.

Mr Buchan said: “There are a further 18 months of discussions to take place and it is important that industry has good dialogue and input to any discussions on the reform of the CFP.

“It is widely agreed by fishermen and EU bureaucrats that the existing CFP document has failed badly in delivering a positive stable fishing industry, in fact it has been the very cause discarding marketable fish at sea and we must make sure this does not continue.

“However fishing is a very complex industry where one glove does not fit all, it is encouraging that regionalisation is being discussed where it is hoped that the stake holders will have an opportunity to be part of discussions regarding their fisheries in their region. I welcome that, the fishers are the experts with generations of expertise.

“The initial over view at this time from various commentators is that the Scottish fishing industry will shrink by another 20%. If this is to happen it will have an affect on the shore-based infrastructure that we depend on to keep our fishing fleet serviced, making sure we have a profitable fishing fleet will help secure shore based jobs and communities and we must work hard to protect that.

“We have a busy few months ahead as we discuss and debate how we as an industry will be affected with changes good or bad to the future of the CFP reform. I hope that we can go forward with the benefit of lessons being learned from past failures with a new CFP in place that can secure the long-term fishing plans yet keep our fishing fleets at sea catching the excellent seafood that we have now become well known for around Europe and beyond.”