Long-awaited agreement reached on revisions to European fisheries controls

European fishing vessels.

Political leaders, fishing industry professionals, and environmental groups have all broadly welcomed the new provisional agreement reached between the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union on the revised E.U. fisheries control system.

Confirmed on 31 May, 2023 – exactly five years after the proposal by the European Commission to improve the implementation of the common fisheries policy (CFP) – the revised rules modernize the way entities control the fishing activities of both E.U. vessels and those fishing in E.U. waters. According to the commission, the new rules will help prevent overfishing, create a more effective and harmonized fisheries control system, and ensure a level playing field between different sea basins and fleets.

Many of the changes seek to take advantage of modern digital technology, such as installing vessel monitoring systems (VMS) onboard most vessels, electronically recording catches, using remote electronic monitoring tools onboard bigger vessels to improve compliance with landing obligations, and improving the tracing of fresh fishery and aquaculture products. The new system also includes harmonized sanctions for rule breaches.

In a statement, E.U. Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans, and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said the updated fisheries control system would ensure more effective control over the use of valuable marine resources and better enforcement of the rules in the future.

“With the agreement today, we are also making fisheries control fit for the future through increased use of digital technologies. Our achievement demonstrates that the long and difficult discussions throughout the years were worth every effort,” he said.

European fishing industry trade body Europêche has voiced its appreciation for the efforts of E.U. co-legislators over five years of “difficult and complex negotiations” to modernize the control and enforcement measures originally adopted in 2009. It acknowledged that in the final wave of talks, policymakers overcame hurdles including a debate over requiring onboard cameras and the permitted margin of error (or tolerance) between catch estimates made onboard and actual landings. 

Europêche said it is now analyzing the final text to assess whether the agreement achieves a balance between effective control rules and the level of costs, bureaucracy, and workability of the rules. Europêche Managing Director Daniel Voces said the introduction of cameras and other control devices have been “harshly criticized by the sector as being intrusive,” but a “positive development” was that livestreaming is not a part of the provisional agreement.

“It is now time to check whether the political agreement sets the foundations for a clear and efficient system that guarantees a level playing field, workable rules, acceptable control devices, and overall makes life easier for fishers,” Voces said.

Europêche Tuna Director Anne-France Mattlet said her organization hopes the new framework makes the margin of tolerance operational, that it stops unfairly penalizing E.U. operators, and that the subsequent implementing legislation undergoes quick and proportionate adoption.

“The control rule on margin of tolerance is currently incompatible with the conditions and specificities inherent to the fishing operations in the tropical tuna purse seine fishery,” she said.

European Parliament political group Renew Europe believes the digitization of fishing activities that will cover all vessels in 2030 will help put an end to the controversies over overfishing, of which the group believes European fishers too often wrongly face accusations. It added that the broadened environmental dimension of the legislation should contribute to the protection of marine biodiversity, while the collection and sharing of data on lost fishing gear will also improve.

Izaskun Bilbao Barandica, Renew Europe’s shadow rapporteur for the regulation in the Parliament's fisheries committee, said the group had fulfilled its hopes of having clearer rules and faster implementation of traceability provisions for processed products.

“In five years at the latest, consumers will finally have, thanks to digital traceability information, the origin of the seafood products they consume, which should have been the case for a long time,” she said. “This information will also help to combat illegal fishing and will enhance the production of the E.U. fleet, which works to the highest social and environmental standards in the world.”

NGO members of the E.U. Fisheries Control Coalition said they expected the new regulation to offer benefits to fishers and the ocean, with Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) Founder and CEO Steve Trent calling it “a landmark moment” and a means to prevent unscrupulous vessel owners from “shopping around” to find member states with

Photo courtesy of Europêche 

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