Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy - Letter from Commissioner Damanaki to the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries

President of the Fisheries Committee
European Parliament


Dear Ms Fraga,

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to present the proposals for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy at the meeting of the EP Fisheries Committee on 13 July, right after their unanimous adoption by the College of Commissioners. I found this first exchange of views with Members of your Committee very useful and I have listened carefully to the opinions and questions of the Honourable Members.

As I had promised at the end of our meeting I would like to offer some clarifications on the main issues discussed during the Committee meeting and I would kindly ask you to share these with the Members of the Committee. I hope that Members of your Committee will find these clarifications useful and that they will help them in the important work ahead.

Achieving maximum sustainable yield (MSY') for our fisheries by 2015
I took good note of the support of a number of Members for the legal obligation to achieve MSY by 2015. In response to the concerns expressed by some Members, I would like to explain why it is necessary to include this objective in the Basic Regulation.

As I have shown in my presentation through a number of figures, delaying firm action would further jeopardize the sustainability of resources and the sector. First, if the current policy continued, only 6% of EU stocks would be at MSY level by 2020. With the Commission's proposal that figure would be 89%. Second, the reform would increase the value added of the sector by between 70 and 90 %, compared to the current situation. Third, the proposals would, improve working conditions and nearly double the level of wages in the catching sector, while creating new jobs through diversification.

Moreover, achieving MSY by 2015 is an objective which derives from the international commitment made by the EU and Member States in Johannesburg in 2002. Finally, the commitment to exploit fisheries at MSY levels is also enshrined in the UN Convention on the Law of Sea and the UN Fish Stock Agreement, to which Member States are signatories. I see no reason why the EU should now backtrack on these commitments. Furthermore it could harm our reputation and would leave room for questioning whether the EU is serious about implementing international commitments it has already undertaken. It is important for our international credibility that the EU is seen as standing firm to the commitments it has taken.

I am confident that if Institutions, Member States and industry work together, we can deliver on this obligation. The upcoming fishing opportunities proposals will show that putting this commitment into practice is possible based on scientific advice that tells us how MSY can be reached by 2015. In this context, I fully agree with those who say that we must strengthen scientific advice as a matter of urgency by new data and new research where scientific advice is yet insufficient.

Discards policy and landing obligation
I am pleased that most Members support the Commission's view on the need to tackle the practice of discarding in European fisheries.

Indeed, the practice of discarding is harmful for the sustainable exploitation of our stocks and has negative impacts on the marine ecosystems. It creates a negative image for the industry, as it is seen by consumers as unethical, wasteful and therefore no longer acceptable. It has long-term negative effects on the economic viability of fisheries and it hampers the quality of scientific advice.

Our impact assessment shows that the proposed discards policy would reduce fishing mortality to the target level (Fmsy) more quickly and would therefore ensure a faster rate of stock recovery. These effects would be particularly visible by 2017.

Unfortunately, there has been only very limited overall progress over the last years in limiting discarding and therefore action has become urgent. The proposed measures take account of the difficulties we might face in adjusting our management system and the phasing in of the landing obligation between 2014 and 2016 will allow the industry to adapt to the new requirements. However, I cannot accept a more gradual approach as the time has come to set ourselves a clear and strict timetable for eliminating discards.

I noted strong support from many Members of the Committee for the concept of regionalisation.

I agree with them that i) no EU institution should be tied down in micro-management, ii) decisions should be taken at the most appropriate level, bringing them closer to the industry and fisheries communities and iii) stakeholders are the main owners and drivers of the process, through co- and self-management, and therefore a greater role for producer organisations is needed.

I also understand that some Members wanted to go further in regionalisation. I would like to stress that am very open to examining any proposal from the EP that goes in this direction, while respecting the remits of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

But I would also like to reassure those who had concerns that regionalisation will weaken the EU's fisheries policy. In fact, the "common" nature of the fisheries policy will continue to be ensured by defining standards, principles and results indicators at EU level. These strong European standards should be followed at regional, national and local levels where the more technical, non-essential and implementation details are developed. At the same time, the reform proposals contain effective claw-back mechanisms in case the regional approach does not deliver, where Member States are either not capable or not willing to deliver. This in itself will play a crucial role in the peer review as Member States that are not willing to take serious measures and risk that all Member States in a given region will suffer from their lack of action, since in that case the Commission would have to make the relevant proposals. Cases where this happens will mean a lost chance for Member States to show that they are capable to sustainably manage fisheries.

Transferable fishing concessions (TFCs)
I took note of the different views in the Committee.

Let me start by saying that TFCs are an essential element of the new framework. In the absence of ineffective scrapping schemes that come at a high cost to taxpayers, TFCs are a key instrument to tackle the main cause of overfishing: overcapacity. Our impact assessment has clearly confirmed that without TFCs, the size of the fleet evolution would remain significantly higher: 10% more compared to a scenario with TFCs by 2022.

Importantly, TFCs will give freedom to fishermen to make longer term economic choices, in line with the Multi-Annual Management Plans. The flexibility of the system will contribute to better quota management at the level of fishermen or producer organisations, a better match between catches and quotas, both in the short and in the long term and greatly help implement the anti-discard policy.

I fully agree with those Members who argued that adequate safeguards are necessary to avoid abuses. I would like to confirm that such safeguards are already in the proposal. In particular, the proposal limits transferability of TFCs to the national level, thereby safeguarding the principle of relative stability. The proposal also gives full flexibility to Member States to decide whether small-scale fleets should be included in the system or not. Finally, the proposals allow Member States to adopt complementary measures and safeguards against possible negative effects. For example, Member States may decide that TFCs can only be purchased by other vessel owners. Another possibility could be that Member States restrict the transferability to inside a given fishery, i.e. white fish concessions can be transferred inside the whitefish fishery only. These are only a few examples and many more could be found that fit the regional circumstances.

Impact of the reform on small-scale coastal fisheries
I fully agree with those who say that this more vulnerable part of our fleets needs adequate protection. This is why the Commission's proposal contributes to the protection of small-scale coastal fisheries in three main ways:

First, as stated above, Member States may exclude small-scale fleets from the TFC system, may limit the transfer of TFCs to within the small scale segment and may introduce additional safeguard measures.

Second, the special restriction of access to the 12 mile zone is maintained, as well as the empowerment of Member States to take conservation measures within that zone. Member States can also safeguard small-scale coastal fisheries by differentiating between small and larger vessels when it comes to implementation measures in the context of regionalisation.

Third, the enhanced role and new powers of producer organisations, as well as the new labelling rules, should fully benefit small-scale fisheries, allowing them to add value to their products, to improve their market position and to participate more actively in fisheries management.

Finally, these measures should be supplemented by specific proposals concerning small-scale fisheries in the upcoming European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will offer a range of initiatives and actions to boost small-scale fisheries and coastal development as well as accompanying financial support.

I welcome the broad support of the Members of the Committee for the proposals to promote aquaculture in the Union. Indeed, aquaculture has a number of assets and a potential to increase its role as supplier of high quality fish protein in light of growing demand for fish that cannot be met by fisheries, even if fully sustainable and in a situation where EU dependence on imports is increasing. I would also like to reiterate that the European aquaculture sector meets good environmental, as well as health protection and animal welfare standards and it has access to very good technologies and to high-quality research.

Future financial instrument
The elements of the proposal should be seen together with the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. I can reassure Members of your Committee that we are drafting a financial instrument that will go with the grain of our reform proposals. The envelope of € 6.7 billion proposed in the Multiannual Financial Framework will allow us to provide substantial and meaningful support to the sector and communities that depend on fisheries.

I encourage you and Members of your Committee to contact my services for any background information that you may need on the above issues, or any other issues mentioned during the exchange of views in the Committee meeting.

I am looking forward to continuing the constructive dialogue on these and other issues in the coming months.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Damanaki 

Last update: 21/09/2014 |  Top