WWF: EU falling behind with sustainable fisheries policy implementation

Despite having had five years to implement measures in the latest version of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), European Union member states are still lagging behind and likely to miss important 2020 deadlines on biodiversity conservation and sustainable fisheries management, a new report from WWF claims.

The NGO said that member state efforts to implement the CFP are “deeply unsatisfactory” and national ocean strategies have so far “missed the mark” on provisions for sustainable fishing, healthy and resilient marine ecosystems and biodiversity conservation. 

Its report – “Evaluating Europe's course to sustainable fisheries by 2020” – includes individual data for each E.U. member state. Only one out of 46 CFP actions assessed by WWF was accomplished by all member states; namely, establishing an administrative system for registering fishing vessels. Twenty-four actions have only been partially accomplished, while the others have not been tackled to date. 

With an average score of 69 percent, Germany is currently the most compliant with the key CFP articles implementation. It is followed by the United Kingdom (65 percent) and Spain, France and Ireland (all with 58 percent). Latvia and Romania, both with just 8 percent, are ranked the least compliant member states.

WWF also rated actions undertaken by the European Commission (EC) and was more encouraged, finding that it had achieved nearly half of the implementation actions for the CFP.

Samantha Burgess, head of marine policy at WWF European Policy Office, said that member states have had ample time to implement the provisions of the reformed CFP, but have demonstrated “an unacceptable lack of political will” toward sustainable fisheries management. 

“European fisheries are facing unprecedented challenges, with high levels of overfishing, destruction of marine habitats, impacts of climate change, with continued illegal activities and poor management of the fisheries sector. This destructive trend must urgently be reversed, especially in coastal communities where fisheries contribute to community livelihoods and food security," Burgess said. “The E.U. must stand by its commitments to sustainable fisheries governance and protect the marine environment upon which its fisheries and coastal communities depend for survival."

The deadline for full implementation of the Landing Obligation (or discard ban) by all member states is 1 January 2019, whereby fishing vessels are required to retain and bring to port all seafood catches to eliminate discarding. Analyses by WWF have found that EC-granted exemptions, allowing operators to discard up to 7 percent of their catches, have increased by 300 percent between 2017 and the end of 2018. 

Phasing-in implementation of the Landing Obligation to January’s fast approaching deadline has not reduced discarding, nor brought the much-needed changes to make fishing practices more sustainable, said WWF. It is therefore now urging member states to invest E.U. fisheries funds in adopting technical solutions that can increase selectivity and reduce unwanted catches.

In addition to the sustainable fishing objectives of the CFP, the report highlights that 2020 is the deadline for the E.U. to achieve its objective of Good Environmental Status in all European seas, accomplish four targets related to UN Sustainable Development Goal 14, and fulfil its commitment to the Convention on Biological Diversity Aichi Target 11 to effectively protect and manage 10 percent of Europe’s marine areas. 

“The E.U. has repeatedly shown its dedication to supporting sustainable growth in our ocean, both internally and internationally, in its numerous declarations and commitments around a Sustainable Blue Economy,” Burgess said. “We are fortunate to have legislation in the E.U. that provides many critical stepping stones to support sustainable fisheries practices, nurture vibrant coastal communities and even contribute to food security on a global scale. The member states and European Commission must stand by their promises and show that the E.U. is a world leader for ocean resilience, in time for the 2020 deadlines.”

WWF’s report also gives priority recommendations that it believes will enhance progress towards sustainable fisheries management across European waters. These include:

Apply the Precautionary Approach consistently

Align annual fishing opportunities with scientific recommendations for sustainable fishing mortality rates 

Accelerate implementation of ecosystem-based management by designing more fish stock recovery programs

Develop robust multiannual plans with clear time frames for all E.U. sea basins

Address challenges of enforcement and compliance with management plans that include cross-sector, multi-stakeholder and agency coordination


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