European Commission Launches New Effort to Reform the Common Fisheries Policy

The European Commission today launched its next attempt to reform the much-maligned Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The last round of reform was only completed in 2002, but as the EU itself acknowledges in today’s Green Paper, many of Europe’s fish stocks remain in a parlous state- 88% of stocks are over-fished (against a global average of 25%) and 30% are ‘outside safe biological limits’, i.e. they cannot reproduce at normal rate because the parenting population is too depleted.

The Commission’s analysis places the blame for over-fishing firmly on the problem of fleet overcapacity, arguing that ‘a number of fishing fleets are two-three times the size needed to catch the available fish’. Fleet capacity across the EU has been falling at an annual rate of around 2-3%, but any capacity reductions have been lost due to the fact that technological improvements make fishing boats 2-3% more efficient every year.

The Commission is also frank in its recognition of the political pressure which sees its scientifically-derived quota proposals overruled by EU Environment Ministers every year.

The scale of the problem is now such that the Commission has decided to bring forward the reform process. It is only legally bound to review some parts of the CFP by 2012, but in the face of falling stock numbers and chronic overcapacity, it feels compelled to launch the full reform process now.

The green paper therefore also includes various proposals on how to achieve sustainable European fisheries. Most notable is the proposal to increase the use of transferable quotas. This system, used with some success abroad, would see fishermen ‘own’ the right to fish for a number of years, thereby encouraging them to fish in a more sustainable manner to protect their own long-term economic interests.

The Commission is now actively seeking views and submissions on its reform proposals. The consultation documents can be viewed here. Submissions will be accepted until 31 December 2009.