Reform of the Common Fishery Policy - a revolution in the making?

Speakers at the North Atlantic Seafood Conferences widely acknowledged that many of the drivers moulding the reform of the EU’s Common Fishery Policy (CFP) have come from outside the fisheries sector. Celebrity chefs, NGOs, and the press have clearly spoken against discards, and retailers have been flexing their muscles as they demand that their suppliers prove that their seafood comes from sustainable fisheries.

With the overall framework of the reform to finally fall into place at the end of the year, the time has now come to flesh out the details. And as always, that’s where the devil is to be found.


Balance the interests of all stakeholders and yet achieve the Vision

There are many challenges in the reform process, of which perhaps the most sticky issue is how to make all the elements of the policy fit together, how to balance the interests of all the stakeholders so that, as basic as it may sound, at the end of the day the vision of the reform will materialise. The vision entails stocks at maximum sustainable yield, a profitable and economically self-sustainable fisheries sector, thriving coastal communities with diversified economies, well informed, responsible consumers, and a simpler and cheaper policy that includes co-management with stakeholders. As the speakers and industry representatives stated clearly, today’s system is not a viable option.


Today only about 35% of the EU’s seafood supply comes from its own resources; processors and consumers in Europe are dependent on imports from outide the EU.


A changed world and new challenges

Various speakers described how the world of fisheries has changed since the current CFP came into being close to thirty years ago. Today the EU processing industry and the EU consumer depend on imports; only about 35% of the seafood comes from EU resources, the rest from non-EU countries. And as industry representatives pointed out, the seafood market has developed into a global market, where an increasing number of countries have a growing demand for imported seafood leading to increased competition for supplies.

According to a report from the New Economic Foundation a proper CFP could produce 3.5 million tonnes of fish for the European consumer and a value for the European fisher of EUR3bn each year, which represents a considerably improved state of affairs. The success of the CFP reform could be measured against these opportunities.


The key elements of the reform

All the key elements of the reform; sustainability, the social agenda, markets, smarter financing, the so called external dimension and better governance through regionalisation were highlighted. Mogens Schou, from the Danish Ministry of Fisheries, identified catch quota management and transferable fisheries concessions as two crucial areas for securing a successful policy change. In other words, a move away from the strong current focus on public regulation of how the fisher should choose gear and fishing methods, to sector responsibility and accountability. The fisher will instead of counting just his landings take responsibility for his total catch, thus making micromanagement to reduce discards obsolete.

The Legislative Process


-        From July 2011 to December 2012: proposals to be adopted by Council and European Parliament

-        Entry into force of the new CFP: 1st January 2013

-        European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF): proposal adopted by the Commission on 2 December 2011

-        From December 2011 to December 2013: proposal to be adopted by Council and European Parliament

-        During 2013: negotiations Commission and Member States on the National Operational Programs

-        Entry into force of the new EMFF: 1st January 2014


Source: Stefaan Depypere, Director, International Affairs and Markets, DG Mare

Another aspect of the challenge is regionalisation or co-management with stakeholders. The question is how to establish a well functioning regional level to avoid today’s micromanagement at the Union level and how to ensure that the rules are adapted to take regional specificities into account. Regionalisation foresees Member States (MS) involved in a particular fishery or sea basin working with each other and with the other stakeholders to develop measures designed to achieve a certain objective, for example managing a stock at a sustainable level. All the concerned MS would enact the necessary legislation nationally so that the rules would be the same in each MS ensuring a level playing field for all fishers.
By bringing together the various stakeholders in a region including fishers, NGOs, scientists, consumers, and administrators, regionalisation could promote the collaboration, for example, between the research institutes in the MS and the fishing industry to develop technical measures such as more selective gear or better fishing techniques.

Before the new CFP with its basic regulations enters into force on 1 January 2013 a myriad of elements and details will have to fall into place. Before there is more flesh on the bone, it is difficult to see whether the reform will lead to the major revolution in fisheries management that many have hoped for, or will be a more incremental process.

Ann-Mari Haram, AM Haram AS, Tel: +47 94175804