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Brussels, 30 May 2008.

Commission: policy statement proposes major changes in fisheries management regimes for 2009

The European Commission today published its annual policy statement on fishing opportunities for 2009, outlining the approach it intends to take when setting Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and fishing effort limitations for the coming year. The Communication highlights the lack of concrete progress since the 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In particular, TACs are consistently set too far above scientific advice to allow overfished stocks to recover, and the days-at-sea system of effort limitation is ineffective. As a result, 88% of EU stocks are overfished, compared with 25% on average globally. Despite substantial efforts, there has been no overall improvement in the status of stocks since 2003. The Commission is therefore proposing greater flexibility in changing TACs from year to year, to enable both more effective recovery measures for overexploited stocks, and greater benefit for fishers when stocks do recover. The Commission is also proposing to shift to a kilowatt-day system for managing fishing effort, which will be both easier to control and more flexible to implement. Member States and stakeholders are invited to present their views on the approach set out by 30 June.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg commented: "The situation of Europe's fish stocks continues to be alarming. Five years after the last Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, major obstacles continue to prevent the positive measures introduced, such as long-term planning, precautionary management and fuller consultation with stakeholders, from producing tangible results. We need to take bolder action to restore our seas to full health. Only then will we have a really profitable and sustainable fishing industry. I call on Member States and stakeholders to support the approach which we have set out for 2009, and to offer constructive criticism and advice on how it can best be implemented."

The Communication begins with an assessment of the current state of EU fisheries resources, which are drastically overfished compared to most other regions of the world. The result is that EU fisheries today make a far smaller contribution to the European economy and food supply than they did in the past. Even more worryingly, the status of some 57% of stocks is unknown to scientists, largely due to inaccurate catch reporting. Better data, and in particular automatic cross-checking of different data sources, will be crucial if the CFP is to function effectively.

A number of urgent changes are needed to address this situation. First, fishing opportunities must be set in line with the level of fishing mortality which will produce the highest yield from the stock in the long-term. Annual variations in TAC were previously limited to 15% in either direction, to provide a minimum level of stability to the industry. It is now apparent that, in the case of stocks which are seriously overfished, this measure is producing results which go against the longer-term interests of the industry. The Commission therefore proposes a more flexible approach to year-on-year changes in TACs, on the basis of advice from the Commission's Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) and in line with that recently proposed as part of the review of the cod recovery plan. This will allow genuine conservation measures to be taken where they are most needed, while helping the industry benefit from recovery once it has taken root. For stocks with a low level of biomass, it is proposed that TACs be reduced by up to 20% a year, while for stocks which have recovered beyond the level which allows the highest yield to be taken, TACs could be increased by up to 25% a year. When STECF advises a zero catch, TACs should be reduced by at least 25%.

The Commission also underlines the fact that existing measures to limit effort have not succeeded in bringing about substantial reductions in fishing pressure. The complex derogations which offset reductions in days-at-sea make it impossible to meet realistic reduction targets. As agreed with the Council in December 2007, the Commission believes that a kilowatt-day system would be more effective (see MEMO/08/353 for details). It would allow Member States to determine the appropriate balance between fishing opportunities and fleet capacity, and to take measures to encourage low-discard fishing. Proposals on effort limitation for 2009 will therefore be made on this basis.

The purpose of the annual policy statement is to facilitate an informed debate with stakeholders on the basic principles underlying the Commission's proposals on fishing opportunities for the following year. The Commission is committed to ensuring that EU fisheries are managed in line with the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy, namely, to ensure sustainable exploitation of resources. TACs and quotas must also respect the EU's international commitments and the provisions of long-term management plans. TACs are set annually for the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea, and the North-East Atlantic including the North Sea. TACs for fisheries on deep sea species are fixed every two years. Fisheries in the Mediterranean are not managed through catch limits, except in the case of bluefin tuna.

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