Reaction mixed to days-at-sea proposal


Steven Hedlund

Published on
September 1, 2009

Seafood and fishing industry representatives were quick on Wednesday to respond to EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg’s implication that the European Union replace catch limits, or quotas, with a days-at-sea fisheries management scheme.

Borg offered the suggestion to MEPs at Tuesday’s European Parliament Fisheries Committee meeting in Brussels. The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been the subject of much debate since April when the European Commission initiated the process of reforming the CFP for the first time since 2002.

On Tuesday, Borg said scrapping quotas altogether in favor regulating fishing effort, or the number of days vessels can fish, may be a more effective and sustainable way to manage EU fisheries. Minimizing bycatch, or discards, is among the benefits of a days-at-sea scheme, he noted.

“I am sure what I am saying may sound somewhat alarming,” said Borg. “Therefore, a possible way forward is to take today’s relative stability and transform it into effort. In doing so, the rights as apportioned between member states would not be affected in any way. Furthermore, a vessel owner could decide to either use his effort rights himself or to rent them or sell them to another vessel owner.”

Borg also addressed the problem of fleet overcapacity: “Earlier reforms of the CFP tried to reduce the fleet by using taxpayers’ money to pay for ships to be scrapped, but all evidence points to the fact that this approach is both expensive and ineffective. Could a market-based approach, based on transferable fishing rights, be the way to introduce a greater dose of economic sanity? It works in other places in the world, such as New Zealand, so maybe it can also work for us. But this would require a radical shift in attitudes.”

Bertie Armstrong, CEO of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, questioned the feasibility of a days-at-sea scheme.

“Every fisherman will agree that there must be an enforced limit to what can be taken from the sea — nobody wants to see overfishing and the consequent downward spiral of commercial suicide,” said Armstrong. “However, the consequences of using days-at-sea as the only control measure will require a great deal more thought. It is at best unpredictable and may, for some fisheries, create more problems than it solves.”

Added Armstrong, “Nevertheless, it is an encouragement that the commissioner is prepared to be truly radical and look at all options. We will, therefore, be asking him as a matter of urgency for more detail on what he is actually proposing.”

In the United Kingdom, both Seafish (the Sea Fish Industry Authority) and Defra (the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) support a days-at-sea scheme.

Said Defra, “We agree that the CFP needs updating and we are looking at all the options. We will shortly be asking for the industry’s views on reforming the CFP and we welcome all contributions to that debate.”

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