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Brussels, 7 June 2007

Commission presents its approach to 2008 fish quotas

Today, the European Commission adopted its annual policy statement setting out its views on fishing opportunities for 2008. Since the general principles outlined last year remain the same (IP/06/1198), this year's Communication focuses on a review of the achievement of conservation measures implemented since the 2002 Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. While some long-term plans have begun to show positive results, most stocks remain outside safe biological limits, creating a high-risk situation for both the stocks concerned and the fishing industry. The main reason for this problem is that the total allowable catches (TACs) agreed each year in Council are much higher than those recommended by scientists. The Commission is therefore calling for more serious efforts in both TACs and fishing effort management in order to put European fisheries back on a truly sustainable footing. The Commission invites stakeholders and Member States to examine the issues raised in this Communication carefully, and to submit their contributions by 31 July 2007.

Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs commented: "This document will provide all interested Parties with a common basis for discussion on how best to approach the setting of fishing possibilities and the management of the related fishing effort. It also provides much valuable food for thought for all concerned on the problems that will have to be urgently resolved in order to return fish stocks to a healthier and more secure biological state."

The annual policy statement was introduced for the first time last year, as a means of facilitating in-depth debate with stakeholders and Member States on the principles underlying the Commission’s proposals for TACs and quotas.

The policy statement begins by highlighting the positive results produced by long-term management arrangements for northern hake, Bay of Biscay sole, North Sea haddock, mackerel and saithe. However, it also recognises that the recovery plan for cod has not brought the improvements which had been expected. Reviewing the period 2003-2007, the Commission concludes that the number of stocks at risk has remained roughly constant, with around 80% of stocks outside safe biological limits.

This is unsurprising, since the TACs adopted by Council have been substantially higher than those recommended by scientists, by an average of between 42% and 57%.. This situation is aggravated by the fact that a number of TACs are, in practice, consistently overshot. As a result, the average decrease in fishing mortality attributable to TAC decisions has declined from 19% in 2004 to only 4% in 2007. Today, only three EU fish stocks out of 33 for which their status is known are fished consistently with the commitment to manage for maximum sustainable yield given at the UN World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg in 2002.

Turning to the fishing effort limitations introduced since 2002, the Communication finds a general decline in fishing effort in the fisheries concerned of between 15% and 35% over the period 2000-2005. One exception is the increase in effort of smaller-meshed trawls, which may be responsible for increased mortality among small cod.

The Commission, however, also points out that the decrease in fishing effort had already begun before the EU effort management regime was introduced, and that the introduction of that regime has not changed the rate of the decline. Since data from the Member States show that only 72% of the fishing effort authorised under the scheme in 2006 was actually deployed, it is not surprising that the scheme has little or no impact on the activity of the fleet. The system is also widely considered to be non-transparent and difficult to manage and to monitor.

The Commission hopes to be able to use the lessons learned from the review of the cod recovery plan already when proposing 2008 TACs for cod at the end of this year. In addition, it will soon be launching a debate on how to simplify, improve and consolidate the existing effort management regimes.

The Communication closes with a number of specific questions for discussion with stakeholders and Member States, including how the precautionary principle should be applied when setting fishing opportunities for stocks where scientists are unable to provide a quantitative forecast, and the possibility of going beyond the 15% maximum annual variation in TAC in the case of stocks which are persistently outside biological limits. The Commission also reaffirms its commitment to improving social and economic impact assessments, and to involving stakeholders ever more closely in the development of the Common Fisheries Policy. It also reaffirms its commitment to extending long-term management plans to all the main commercial stocks in European waters

This year, the Commission will table two proposals, one for the Baltic Sea, and the other covering stocks in the Northeast Atlantic. No proposal for deep sea species will be made, as the Regulation adopted last year remains valid until the end of 2008.

See also MEMO/06/330

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