EU Parliament votes yes for more sustainable fisheries

This year has seen some major reforms in the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and yesterday another important decision regarding the future of EU fisheries was cast: funding allocations. MEPs met in Strasbourg to take part in a plenary vote on the allocation of the €6.5billion European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for 2014-2020. The EMFF is the funding budget that supports the CFP and essentially determines whether the objectives of the CFP are met. The key results of yesterday’s vote give an indication that ministers want a change in fisheries management to become more sustainable and scientifically underpinned.

The run up to this vote has seen much debate and attention given the current overfished state of EU fish stocks. One of the major reasons for overfishing in the EU has been attributed to the fisheries subsidies given out by EU governments, which have the aim to help increase profitability within the fishing industry. In the 1930’s and 40’s, fisheries subsidies provided by governments were aimed to increase investment in fishing industries and therefore incentivise more people to take part in the industry. However, as technologies and gear efficiencies grew, this lead to a ‘race for fish’, ultimately leading to declines in fish stocks. Today, EU fish stocks continue to decline as more subsidies are pumped into the fishing industry to aid failing industries, regenerate aging fleets and cover the rising costs of fuel – so called capacity enhancing subsidies. Whilst not all subsidies are bad – some aim to promote natural capital and effective management- in the case of the EU, the subsidy system has ended up promoting overcapacity. This essentially means that there are far too many boats chasing too few fish.

The amount of money spent on subsidies is a staggering amount given the undesirable outcomes that the majority of them result in; over €1 billion is paid annually in subsidies to those within EU fisheries. Spain, Ireland and the UK are some of the most heavily subsidised countries.  Many organisations, parliamentarians and members of the public alike have therefore seen the vote surrounding budget allocation of the EMFF as a key step to ensuring a healthy future for fish stocks and fishing industries and reducing the amount spent on capacity enhancing subsidies.

The results from the plenary vote yesterday is good news on the most part. Ministers voted for a doubling in funding for data collection of fish stocks (exact figures to be released), giving good indication that they are in favour of more science being used to underpin policy decisions. This increase in investment for data collection is much needed given that an estimated 65% of fish stocks are not fully assessed, with many fished stocks not even having any assessment at all. Additionally, since recent CFP reform objectives of basing management on maximum sustainable yield (MSY) have been passed, having the budget to enable MSY to be determined from stock data is critical in allowing management to be scientifically based. It may also help to better understand whether population estimates used to inform catch quotas and total allowable catches are reasonably correct.

Management of such fisheries through better control and enforcement has also been given an increase in budget. This should help to generate more resources to tackle the problems of illegal, unreported or unregulated (so called IUU fishing) fishing practices. It is estimated 40% of catch is caught this way, leading to huge issues with management and enforcement, in addition to understanding the impacts this has on the stocks themselves.

Another welcome decision was made regarding the allocation of funding for new vessels. MEPs voted against investing more money into constructing more boats, signifying an important step in tackling the problem of overcapacity of fleets in Europe. However, some proposals, such as investing in regeneration of vessel engines, were passed meaning that some of the issues which lead to overcapacity have yet to be addressed.

Overall, the results of the voting represent a positive step towards a more sustainable future for fisheries in Europe. The investment in more data collection and better enforcement and regulation will mean that ultimately more management decisions can be science based and better informed. However, whilst this shows good progress in the way fisheries policy is moving, there is still a long way to go regarding the subsequent actions that result from the funding allocations. Making sure that the money allocated is used to advance fisheries management and policy is essential if there is a bright future for European fisheries. The decisions made yesterday will now be further negotiated between EU Parliament, Council and the Commission before the end of the year, ready for when the new funding will come into place in January 2014.