Brussels, 18 February 2008.
Developing a culture of compliance throughout the chain of activities related to fisheries from the fisherman to the consumer is the surest way of delivering sustainable and equitable fisheries in Europe. This is the message that Joe Borg, European Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs delivered earlier today at an informal Council on Control of fisheries activities, organised by the Slovenian Presidency of the European Union. At the meeting, Commissioner Joe Borg presented his analysis of the serious shortcomings of the current system which have also been noted in a recent report by the European Court of Auditors. He also outlined his vision for an in-depth reform that would encourage honest operators to abide by the agreed measures and effectively deter would-be rule breakers through better detection of infringements and stiff penalties. Today's discussions will feed into the Commission's proposal for such a reform. Under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), control and enforcement of agreed rules are the responsibility of Member States.
Commissioner Borg told Ministers that despite spending € 400 million a year on control, of which € 200 million go to controls at sea, the registration of catches remained unreliable, that little verification or cross checking of data was carried out and that false catch declarations were forwarded to the Commission.
Commissioner Borg said: "The weaknesses in the EU fisheries controls are putting the entire Common Fisheries Policy into question. The current control system is so inefficient that it jeopardises our efforts to achieve sustainable exploitation and long term management of stocks. The weaknesses are manifest and include, among other things, the poor quality of catch data submitted by Member States, the apparent gaps in the vessel monitoring systems, and the average level of sanctions, which is far too low to be a deterrent for would-be rule breakers. The report of the Court of Auditors from November of last year confirms the Commission’s analysis. Any control policy falls apart like a house of cards if it is not properly implemented, and if infringements are not followed up.
You don’t have to be clairvoyant to see what will happen if we don’t act now. When false catch declarations are fed into scientific assessments of the state of the fish stocks, the result is flawed scientific advice. This is a vicious circle as the scientific advice underpins our fisheries management decisions. If the advice is flawed, the respect for rules erodes even further. This results in increasing pressure on stocks and continued under-reporting of catches. In short, if the agreed rules are not enforced, all our work to bring fisheries back to sustainable levels will be severely undermined.
Efficient controls are also a matter of creating a level playing field for the honest fishermen. Today, those in the industry who uphold the law frequently witness offenders escaping sanction and making huge financial profits in the process. This is untenable in any context, and particularly in the current situation, with fish resources getting increasingly scarce.
The Commission therefore intends to propose at the beginning of October 2008 a new policy framework which will take a global and integrated approach to control, from the fisherman to the consumer. It will focus not only on the catches and the landings, but will look at auctions, markets and imports. It will be simpler than the current one, based on harmonisation and cost effectiveness. It is essential that we seize this opportunity and develop a culture of compliance that ensures controllability and traceability."
The Commission's objectives include broadening the mandate of the Community Fisheries Control Agency so that it can play a full role in the future scope of cooperation between Member States and with the Commission.