Damanaki’s rally cry for CFP reform
The reform process for Europe’s much-maligned Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is about to enter its most crucial stage. While it’s widely agreed the current CFP is ineffective, there are mounting concerns the ambitious proposals soon to be put forward by EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki for implementation in 2013 will be vetoed because of the immediate detrimental impacts they will have on many member states’ fishing communities.
Speaking at the high-level GLOBE World Oceans Day Forum in London last week, Damanaki pleaded for backing from the dozen attending EU member state delegations and other interested dignitaries.
“In one month’s time, the European Commission is going to decide upon our proposal for CFP reform,” she said. “It’s really now or never and that’s why I need your help and support.”
On July 13, the EC will release its CFP reform proposals. There will then be two readings with the first expected in September.
Chris Davies, a member of the European Parliament (MEP), told forum delegates they shouldn’t be under the illusion that Damanaki’s reform proposals are going to be “in for an easy ride,” and that everyone in Brussels is signed up to the idea of having a sustainable fisheries policy.
“My estimate is a third of MEPs have got it and will support whatever the commissioner comes up with; there’s a similar number that hasn’t got it and doesn’t understand the sustainable nature of the policies; and there’s another third that has no interest in fish whatsoever. So it’s by no means a certainty,” said Davies.
“In the short-term, we need to implement maximum sustainable yields (MSY), which means no overfishing and that means a reduction in the catch and less jobs for fishermen in the future.” said Davies. “Long-term sustainability will require short-term political pain. And that’s the Commissioner’s biggest problem when she introduces the policy proposals next month.”
Damanaki is no stranger to political disappointment. Last year she had two proposals rejected — one on cutting the bluefin tuna catch and another that would have reduced quotas in the Baltic region.
“I have to learn from my mistakes and I do have alternative scenarios,” she revealed. “I have my red lines where I might have to move backward a little bit, but if the red lines are crossed then I am going to take back my proposals.”
UK Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon said a lot now hinges on the MEPs, and that’s why he and fellow supporters of Damanaki’s reforms will continue to lobby for the support of these European politicians.
“The CFP is undoubtedly broken; that’s accepted by politicians, by catchers, processors, retailers, NGOs and consumers. For my part, I have been negotiating hard with my fellow ministers — trying to get across the need for ambitious reform and building international alliances,” said Benyon.
“I want us to develop a common framework, to be rid of the unnecessary, overarching rules that govern fisheries. Many unnecessary decisions are made in the commission and I want to see these devolved so we have a greater regional management of stocks,” he continued. “I want to see fishermen that have an entitlement to fish. If they invest in the size of the biomass of the stocks they are fishing, then it’s absolutely in their interest to see the size of that biomass increase. This has worked well in other countries, particularly the U.S.”
So what happens if the commissioner doesn’t get the support she needs?
“One doesn’t need to be clairvoyant to see it,” said Damanaki. “We will lose one fish stock after the other, with a possible chain reaction for the ecosystem that is hard to predict. Our industry will face even more economic pressure. We are going to lose jobs, but not just in the fishing sector; also in the processing industry, in transport, in port infrastructure, at auctions and retailers. This is why I really want to change things.
“We can’t be proud of our current CFP policy,” she continued. “The United States, Australia, New Zealand and Norway are already way ahead of us in adopting modern, sustainable policies that deliver good results for both the industry and the oceans. But Europe is still a great power in world fishing; we also import 42 percent of the global trade in fish. So we simply cannot afford to be so far behind on sustainability.”
As well as reducing the practice of discarding unwanted fish at sea through transferable user quotas, the reform proposals include the commitment to reach maximum sustainable yield (MSY) in European seas by 2015. This was first decided upon at the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2002 but has now “become a real legal obligation,” said Damanaki.
“MSY means that we can keep fishing. But we have to manage each fish stock in such a way that we can get maximum financial gains while still keeping the stock sustainable,” she said.
Pressing the need for widespread support, Damanaki said CFP reform is no longer the private business of Brussels and fisheries ministers. She said it concerns all Europeans — fishermen, coastal populations, retailers and consumers.
“The proposals I will be presenting in the summer will be another step forward in our common campaign. After that, it will be up to national parliaments, to European Parliament and to the fisheries ministers of Europe to prove they care too and that they have sufficient foresight to carry this through. Help us push that door,” she urged delegates. “With your help, I’m sure we can make the CFP fit for today’s environmental and economic challenges.”
Only time will tell if the EU fisheries chief can convince enough of Europe’s politicians to surrender short-term economic interests and to plump for what she calls “the bigger picture.”
With potentially severe political consequences at stake but another 10 years before the next CFP can be reformed, a watered down version of the commissioner’s proposals is thought to be likely. However, Damanaki has, as she stated, drawn her un-crossable “red lines,” so it’s all very precariously balanced.