By Jason Holland, Contributing Editor reporting from London
Published on Friday, February 17, 2012
One of the biggest criticisms of Europe’s current Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is that despite promises made on fisheries subsidy reform it still enables some fishing fleets to operate unprofitably. And it does this at a time when it’s estimated that 30 percent of European stocks are being fished beyond safe biological limits.
Adding further weight to this grievance, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) recently released the results of an audit that assessed whether the CFP had effectively adapted the capacity of the EU fleets to match the fishing opportunities. The ECA found that despite EUR 1.7 billion (USD 2.2 billion) being spent on vessel decommissioning since 2002, there had been no tangible decline of overfishing. Its verdict was the CFP measures had “failed.”
With “austerity” being the buzzword of 2012, it’s not surprising that the new CFP reform proposals — to enter into force in 2013 — are under intense scrutiny from many parties. This is, after all, a once in a decade opportunity to fix a series of loitering problems.
Attending a European Parliament plenary meeting in Strasbourg, France, last week, EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki told members of the European Parliament (MEPs) that the focus should be on social sustainability and creating attractive jobs for the fishing industry but also that the only way to achieve this is through wholesale reform.
“We have to realize that the only way to have a healthy fisheries sector is to have healthy stocks; we cannot invent any other way,” said Damanaki. “Healthy stocks support larger catches of bigger fish. This improves profitability, wages and employment of fishermen, as well as people working in processing.
“We could continue to give subsidies; give a lot of taxpayers’ money, but if we don’t have healthy stocks there’s no way to have a healthy sector. This is also the only way to attract young people [to the industry]. If the young can see there’s an income to be had, they will come,” she said and urged the European Parliament to support the CFP reform process. “With your help this reform can deliver all that and ensure the long-term viability of our coastal communities across Europe.”
The commissioner highlighted that her reform proposals pay particular attention to small-scale fisheries because small fishing vessels represent close to 80 percent of the total EU fleet and around 40 percent of the onboard crews.
Her dedicated measures for these fleets include business and innovation advisory services and aid agents. Together, she hopes these resources can increase fishermen’s income by supporting species selectivity, marketing, product quality and innovation. Damanaki also wants to support producer organizations in addition to improvements in working conditions, safety, energy and training.
“We have special measures for all this in our funding,” she said. “I have also made sure that the EMMF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund) has increased funding for the sustainable development of coastal areas. In our impact assessment we came to the conclusion that the EMMF could bring around 12,500 additional jobs to the sector.
“In the last decade, 30 percent of the jobs in the catching sector have been lost, so asking me to keep the status quo is not an option. We are going to lose more jobs so we have to change things,” she continued. “Investment is important, but we have to invest in the selectivity of the gears; we have to invest in real modernization of the fleet, but not in such a way that we increase capacity. But fisheries are not just about catching; we need a multi-sector approach. We have ancillary sectors — processing, aquaculture, maritime tourism etc., so we have to find a balance for all these activities.”
Being the final 12 months of policy wrangling and fine-tuning, 2012 was always going to be the most crucial year for the reforms. And the ongoing Eurozone crisis and subsequent depletion of financial and human resources are likely to make it a bumpy ride for Damanaki’s proposals. But looking forward, the commissioner believes that if the EU was, for example, to implement and reach maximum sustainable yields (MSY) in European seas by 2015, which is one of the pillars of her reform package, then a lot of new jobs will be added to the fisheries sector. In this period of growing European unemployment this is a welcome forecast for the seafood industry.
Editor’s note: The proposed EMMF was unveiled by the European Commission at the end of last year, and, if introduced, will run from 2014 through 2020. According to the commission, the fund will help deliver the ambitious objectives of the new CFP, cut red tape and help fishermen in the transition toward sustainable fishing. It will replace the existing European Fisheries Fund (EFF) and a number of other instruments.