Same rules for all fishermen in Europe

Up to now, violation of regulations within the fisheries sector was punished differently by the individual EU member states. Something that was seen as a minor offence in one country could bring with it tough penalties in another. With the new fisheries control regulation which has been in force since 1 January 2010 the EU created an instrument for protecting fish resources better, fighting unfair competition, and thereby securing the future existence of honest fishermen.

When the EU member states agreed on the basic principles of a Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) the conservation of fish resources played only a minor role. At that time people probably hoped that the temptation to make use of the common European fishing grounds solely for one’s own benefit would ultimately yield to reason among all participants in the fish industry. Or perhaps the politicians just didn’t want to burden the national fishing industries with any superfluous regulations. In spite of this, even then a lot of people seem to have foreseen the risk of disputes arising over fish resources between the individual member states: A strikingly large number of items in the CFP was concerned with the avoidance of conflicts. The question of how the CFP principles could be rigorously and effectively implemented and controlled in practice largely remained open.

Today we know just how significant these two issues would have been since not all parties adhered to the jointly agreed rules to the same extent. The consequences are equally serious for both fish stocks and fishermen. Too many fishermen hunt and lay claim to the same fish, and the disproportion between the size of the fish stocks and fishing capacity is obvious. As profitability within the fish industry sank the temptation grew for many to try to get around or even break the rules. This self-service mentality of a few participants distorts competition, ruins the stocks and also harms those fishermen whose honesty makes them adhere stringently to the applicable laws and regulations. In the meantime Europe’s fishery ministers and managers have recognized this fact and with the Fisheries Control Regulation (No. 1224/2009) they created a powerful instrument with which marine resources can be more effectively protected and unfair competition more specifically combated. And both of these are important prerequisites for securing the future livelihoods of honest fishermen.

The scale that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has reached is underlined by estimates according to which every year about 10 billion EUR worth of such fish are sold worldwide. That would make the IUU fishery the second largest supplier of fishery products. Although EU fishermen themselves contribute only a small share to these IUU catches the European Union was for a long time an attractive market for the illegally caught fish The origin of these fishes was easily disguised by processing them in a third country, for example, prior to their export to the EU. Hardly any of these products could be traced back to its origins. It was only in rare cases that it was possible to identify reliably which vessel had caught the fish. For this reason the EU Commission proposed in 2007/2008 to completely reform the fisheries control system and introduce harsh rules that would contribute towards draining the swamp of IUU fishing worldwide. The controls that are necessary to curb illegal fishing activities demand an immense bureaucratic effort. The preferential treatment of certain countries ceases to exist, no “black sheep” are to remain undiscovered. If this goal is achieved, the chances increase that all fishermen will again be able to carry out their work under the same basic conditions.

In the past violations of fishery regulations attracted penalties that varied between the EU Member States, today however the sanctions for an offence are uniformly applied across the EU.

Traceability system is to expose IUU fishing

Good will was rarely lacking in the EU in the past but the announced measures often came to nothing because they were implemented half-heartedly, were difficult to control, and in addition frequently too expensive. This state of affairs is to change with the new fishery control regulation which has been in force since 1 January 2010. It is based on three pillars – separate regulations – that complement each other and thereby increase the efficiency of the controls:
• Regulation to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU regulation),
• Regulation on fishing licences for EU fishing vessels that operate outside EU waters,
• Regulation for the introduction of a control regulation that ensures adherence to CFP rules.
In March 2011 the fishery control regulation was amended by an implementing regulation (No. 404/2011) which settles important technical details of the reform process.

At the core of the control regulation is the traceability system which was introduced with the IUU regulation. Modern technologies are to enable the control authorities and participants in the fish industry to trace the origins and the often labyrinthine paths of fishery products within the marketing chain. All products from the marine fishery that are traded in the EU have to be certified and their origin thus traceable. This would make it practically impossible to market fish products from prohibited fishing activity within the EU region. However, the measurement package of the EU contains further significant elements. Numerous control regulations were simplified and co-operation between member states is to be improved, too, to make controls and inspections at individual marketing stages more effective. For example, a modern data information system is to be built up to improve information exchange between member states, the EU Commission and the European Fisheries Control Agency.


Development of a ”control culture“ in Europe

With the new regulation the system of sanctions was also harmonised. Violations of fishery regulations should be punished appropriately and forcefully to produce a maximum deterrent. In the past the penalties for breaches of rules varied considerably among the individual EU member states. In this area, too, there was no fair “competition” and some fishermen used these inequalities in the sanction rulings for their own specific benefit. Now, however, the same violations are to be punished with the same sanctions, irrespective of where and by whom they are committed, the nationality of the offender, or the flag under which the ship is registered. In this way a Europe-wide uniform “control culture” is to be developed. An important step on the path to this goal is the introduction of a penal point system for serious rule violations. Germany was particularly eager to achieve this. The same way in which car drivers are penalised for not observing traffic rules with points which can in their sum lead to withdrawal of the driving licence, the penal point system for fishermen will mean that the fishing licences of repeat offenders can be withdrawn. If the holder of a fishing licence or the captain of a fishing vessel has reached 18 points he has to restrain from fishing for two months. If he reaches this score several times over the penalty period shall be extended accordingly, for example to one year after the fourth time. Anyone who has been penalised with points but is afterwards guilty of no further offences can after a certain time have the points erased. This principle is simple and fair. It enables fine distinctions to be made, it acts as a deterrent and, on top of that, it is quite inexpensive.

The traditional system of fishery controls and inspections in the open sea is not affected by the new control regulation – in fact, it is rather expanded. Because the controls are very labour and material intensive the EU bears part of the costs. Controls at sea serve on the one hand to check adherence to valid regulations, for example whether the mesh size of the fishing gear and the size of the caught fish are within the accepted limits or that no unauthorized fishing gear is used. On the other hand during the inspections data can be collected that are necessary for the administration of the fishery and its resources. Regulations and controls are agreed at EU level but it is the responsibility of the member states to implement them via their national authorities.


EFCA gains greater power

The highest control body of the EU is the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) which was founded in 2005 and is based in Vigo in Spain. Its responsibilities and competencies are laid down in Council Regulation 768/2005. In essence they can be outlined as follows:
• Co-operation with all member states for the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy
• Support of the community and member states in fisheries relations to third countries and regional fisheries management organisations (RFMO)
• Implementation of a sustainable fishery in accordance with established fisheries protection and management measures
In order to achieve these objectives the EFCA follows two strategies. On the one hand it tries to pool and co-ordinate national control resources. Here, for example, joint deployment plans are drawn up for key areas, for example for cod in the North Sea and the Baltic or for blue fin tuna in the Mediterranean (see On the other hand the necessary personnel capacities have to be built up in the member states to enable similar implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy everywhere. To this end common training programmes for national fisheries inspectors are carried out, for example.

Controls at sea serve to check whether the mesh size of the fishing gear and the size of the caught fish are within the accepted limits or that no unauthorized fishing gear is used. They are also used to collect data that are necessary for the administration of the fishery and its resources.

All member states, the EU Commission and the EFCA can propose suitable persons as Union Inspectors. According to EU law the nominated inspectors are authorised to monitor fisheries within EU and international waters and to carry out the necessary controls. They should not, however, monitor the activities of individual fishermen since this is still the responsibility of the national authorities. The task of the EU Inspectors is to check the control systems drawn up by the member states and to make sure that the CFP regulations are implemented effectively, correctly and fairly throughout the EU.

If the EU Commission comes to the conclusion that a national fisheries authority is not implementing the CFP regulations as agreed it will first try to solve the problem with intensive consulting. If necessary it can also freeze money provided by the European Fisheries Fund or prohibit a certain fishery until the inadequacies have been cleared up. If this does not prove successful or the necessary measures are not implemented quickly and forcefully enough the responsible member state can also be taken before the European Court of Justice.


Implementation of the control regulation will take time yet

The control regulation increases the chance that the Common Fisheries Policy of the EU will at last be able to make the desired and necessary contribution to the solving of all those problems that in a narrower or broader sense are connected with fishing. Such achievements might even make CFP a model for other regions of the world. It is certainly helpful that when drawing up the new control regulation the Eurocrats at least partly resisted the temptation to try and regulate and stipulate everything right down to the last tiny detail. Protests from several member states prevented some unnecessary or even useless over-regimentation, for example with regard to rod fishing. Originally the EU Commission wanted to have these catches included in the national fishing quotas. From a biological viewpoint that might make sense but it would have meant a disproportionate amount of administration and control and – measured against that – have achieved too little. Inland fisheries and freshwater aquaculture were also wisely left out of the regulation’s range of validity.

One thing which must probably be counted as a success is that the vessels operating in the small-scale coastal fishery do not have to be fitted with satellite supported monitoring systems and electronic log books. In several countries these small fishermen were up in arms about the plans because effort and benefits were in no acceptable relationship. The coastal fishery that can be observed from the dyke so to speak is considered particularly valuable because it is mostly operated on a sustainable basis. Apart from that, on fishing vessels above 10 m length electronic systems were already required that enabled satellite monitoring, for example the automatic identification system AIS, the electronic reporting system ERS and the vessel d deployment system VDS. That is why only boats measuring 12 to 24 metres had to be refitted with electronic fishing monitoring techniques and their number amounted to 13,831 of the 64,158 fishing vessels in the EU. Larger ships already have the equipment on board anyway. The additional technology is to prevent fishermen from giving false information when reporting catch volume or fish species. All important data, for example when, how much and which fish were caught, where they were landed and where they were sold is now immediately passed on to the central control authorities by radio.

Although the new control regulation brings a lot of improvements and progress compared to the old regulations hardly anyone is completely satisfied. Some complain that the regulations are hard to read, confusing and difficult to understand, others that the new EU fisheries control law was guided by low standards that were equally implementable in all member states. There was also criticism of the EU plans to give fishermen and companies financial support of up to 85 per cent of the investment costs for equipping their vessels with the necessary monitoring technology. The 40 million EUR which are planned for this purpose would then not come from the “evil-doers” but from taxation revenue, i.e. from EU citizens.