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A Sisyphean task for fisheries management
This article was featured in EUROFISH Magazine 6 / 2020.
Compliance with fishing quotas and implementation of fisheries regulations requires constant monitoring and control and it was to this end that the Community Fisheries Control Agency was set up as the supreme authority in the EU. Although it is relatively small the agency has to carry out a wide range of tasks. Despite its numerous achievements there seems to be no end to the criticism raining down on the group with regard to the effectiveness of the controls. Why do a lot of things work better in Norway or Iceland?
The latest Annual Economic Report on the EU Fishing Fleet has been released showing a profitable fishing fleet in 2020, despite the effects of COVID-19. In 2008, the EU fishing fleet was barely breaking even and ten years later it registered a net profit of EUR 800 million. This significant progress was the result of higher average fish prices, lower fuel costs, and improved stocks of important species. This trend continued into 2019. The COVID-19 outbreak in 2020 interrupted the trend with estimates suggesting that the economic performance of the EU fleets decreased by 17% in landed value, 19% in employment and 29% in net profits compared to 2019.
Despite the impact of COVID-19, projections indicate that the EU fleet is resilient and would end 2020 with a reasonable level of profitability as a result of the efforts made by the sector in the previous years. This includes fishing to the maximum sustainability yield combined with low fuel prices.
Greenland concluded negotiations with the EU for a new Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreement (SFPA) that will strengthen cooperation between the two partners for the next four years with the possibility of a two-year extension. The agreement is an important milestone in the long-standing bilateral cooperation between the two in fisheries and renews the commitment to promoting the sustainable use of marine resources. Financially, this is the third most important agreement in place for the EU and will allow the EU fleet (12 large-scale trawlers) to continue fishing in Greenland waters for at least the next 4 years while continuing to contribute to the development of the fisheries sector in Greenland.
An estimated 33% of the European fishing fleet catches are fished in British waters. The UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists on Britain “maintaining control of these UK fishing waters” after it leaves the EU, he said in his first meeting with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who took office in December. The two are discussing the negotiations after Brexit, on January 31, with Johnson wanting a trade deal with the EU completed by the end of 2020 without Britain aligning with EU rules. He said the UK wanted “a broad free-trade agreement covering goods and services and co-operation in other areas”. With regards to fishing rights the two sides have committed to negotiating a new framework in place by 1 July although EU spokespersons believe that talks will go deep into the year due to its complexities.
Ahead of the Council meeting on Fisheries taking place in mid-December, the Commission has adopted its proposal for fishing opportunities, the Total Allowable Catches (TACs), in 2020 for 72 stocks in the Atlantic and the North Sea. Quotas for 32 stocks will increase or remain the same, while 40 stocks will have their quota reduced. The quotas are set for most commercial fish stocks at levels that maintain or restore them to health, while allowing the industry to take the highest amount of fish. The proposal follows advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES). Sustainable fishing has made substantial progress in the EU: in 2019, 59 stocks are being fished at Maximum Sustainable Yield levels, up from 53 in 2018 and compared to only 5 in 2009, meaning that the fishing pressure on the stocks is limited to a level that will allow a healthy future for the fish stocks' biomass, while taking into account socio-economic factors. As the size of some key fish stocks is increasing – for instance, haddock in the Celtic Sea and sole in the Bristol Channel – so has the European fishing sector’s profitability which will reach an estimated €1.3 billion in 2019.
Scientists and industry representatives from 16 countries gathered in Tromsø, Norway in the middle of June to launch a new EU-funded project, AquaVitae. The 36 project partners are from European countries as well as Brazil, South Africa, Namibia, and North America.
A new study claims that the EU will not reach its 2020 goal of sustainably caught fish, as EU ministers continue allowing catches higher than the recommended limits set by scientists. The New Economics Foundation (NEF), an NGO based in the UK, claims that the 2019 TACs for nearly half of EU commercial fish species were set higher than the scientific advice. They found that 55 TAC’s were set above recommended levels equating to approximately 312,000 tonnes in excess catch. The Northeast Atlantic TACs were on average set 16% above scientific advice, an increase of 9% from 2018. Early negotiations for the Baltic Sea and deep sea TACs are currently set higher than expert advice.
This year, 2019, marks the year that the landing obligation comes into full effect. This ends the four-year phasing-in period. All catches of regulated commercial species are required to be landed and counted against the quota throughout the EU. This aims to stop the unsustainable practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea. However, reports show that the majority of the fish thrown back does not survive. Scientists believe that this will encourage fisherman to adapt and invest in selective gears to reduce these unwanted landings and improve the sustainability of fish stocks, however, they warn that there could be initial hardship for the industry and that fisheries data maybe compromised as this obligation is very difficult to monitor. Few within the industry believe that fishing vessels will follow the obligation. Currently, fisheries ministers throughout the EU are working on trade quota deals to ease the pressure on the industry.
The Eurobarometer, a survey since 1973 of economic and social indicators, operated by the European Commission, has found, once again, that Europeans love fish. European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella reacted to the most recent report by highlighting the importance of ensuring the sustainability of European fisheries so that “…our citizens can enjoy these tasty products in the long term.” Considerable progress has been made in this regard over the last years, he said, adding that aquaculture too played an important role, “farmed fish from the EU is a sustainable source of protein and other nutrients. In a low-carbon society, its role will only increase.” Europeans spend twice as much, per person, on fish than do Americans because, according to the survey of people’s opinion, most (74% of survey respondents) find it healthy, and tasty. Europeans also prefer the local fishmonger, who sells local fish, rather than other retail channels, where the fish may be imported, and where the seller may not be as acquainted with seafood, how to treat it, recipes, and so on. Fishmongers also often offer a more varied assortment of seafood, which the survey respondents also valued. Trust was another issue, the respondents also indicated they felt greater confidence in their seafood purchases because of the strict EU rules on product quality, labelling, and other benefits.
European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella, and Mr Kim Young-Choon, Minister for Oceans and Fisheries of the Republic of Korea have agreed to collaborate closely to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The new alliance, in line with the objectives of the EU’s Ocean Governance strategy will;
- exchange information about suspected IUU-activities
- enhance global traceability of fishery products threatened by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing, through a risk-based, electronic catch documentation and certification system
- join forces in supporting developing states in the fight against IUU fishing and the promotion of sustainable fishing through education and training
- strengthen cooperation in international fora, including regional fisheries management organisations.