EC proposes major changes in fisheries management

The European Commission published, on the 30th May 2008 its annual policy statement on fishing opportunities for 2009, outlining the approach it intends to take when setting Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and fishing effort limitations for the coming year.
Despite substantial efforts, there has been no overall improvement in the status of stocks since 2003. The Commission is therefore proposing greater flexibility in changing TACs from year to year, to enable both more effective recovery measures for overexploited stocks, and greater benefit for fishers when stocks do recover. The Commission is also proposing to shift to a kilowatt-day system for managing fishing effort, which will be both easier to control and more flexible to implement. Member States and stakeholders are invited to present their views on the approach set out by 30 June.

The Communication highlights the lack of concrete progress since the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In particular, TACs are consistently set too far above scientific advice to allow overfished stocks to recover, and the days-at-sea system of effort limitation is ineffective. As a result, 88% of EU stocks are overfished, compared with 25% on average globally.

The Communication begins with an assessment of the current state of EU fisheries resources, which are drastically overfished compared to most other regions of the world. Even more worryingly, the status of some 57% of stocks is unknown to scientists, largely due to inaccurate catch reporting. Better data, and in particular automatic cross-checking of different data sources, will be crucial if the CFP is to function effectively.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg commented: "The situation of Europe's fish stocks continues to be alarming. Five years after the last Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, major obstacles continue to prevent the positive measures introduced, such as long-term planning, precautionary management and fuller consultation with stakeholders, from producing tangible results. We need to take bolder action to restore our seas to full health. Only then will we have a really profitable and sustainable fishing industry. I call on Member States and stakeholders to support the approach which we have set out for 2009, and to offer constructive criticism and advice on how it can best be implemented."

A number of urgent changes are needed to address this situation:
Fishing opportunities must be set in line with the level of fishing mortality which will produce the highest yield from the stock in the long-term. Annual variations in TAC were previously limited to 15% in either direction, to provide a minimum level of stability to the industry. It is now apparent that, in the case of stocks which are seriously overfished, this measure is producing results which go against the longer-term interests of the industry. The Commission therefore proposes a more flexible approach to year-on-year changes in TACs, on the basis of advice from the Commission's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF).

The Commission also underlines the fact that existing measures to limit effort have not succeeded in bringing about substantial reductions in fishing pressure. The complex derogations which offset reductions in days-at-sea make it impossible to meet realistic reduction targets. The Commission believes that a kilowatt-day system would be more effective