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Brussels, 4 June 2008.

Fisheries: Commission proposes a simpler approach to technical measures

The European Commission has today adopted a proposal for a Council regulation on technical measures to promote the conservation of fish stocks, to reduce discards and protect vulnerable marine habitats in EU waters outside the Baltic Sea, the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea. The aim of the present regulation is to lay down the general principles underlying all technical measures in these waters, together with a small number of specific measures which will be permanently applicable in all areas. More specific rules which need to be adapted to local conditions will then be laid down in a series of Commission regulations, corresponding to the fisheries covered by the Regional Advisory Councils concerned. This approach should lead not only to a clearer and simpler technical framework for EU fisheries, but also to one which is better adapted to different ecosystems and more responsive to input from stakeholders.

The simplification of the technical measures governing fisheries on Europe's Atlantic coast is long overdue. Technical measures are a vital tool not only for the conservation of stocks in general, but more specifically in the fight to bring discarding down to the lowest possible level, and to ensure that EU fisheries are environmentally friendly. By proceeding on a regional basis, the Commission will be able to avoid the trap of micro-management, and ensure that the specific measures taken are truly in line with conditions in particular fisheries.

The Commission has taken a number of factors into account in preparing the current proposal, whose aim is to reduce the complexity of the current system, in which similar measures are scattered through a wide range of texts. In particular, reducing discards and protecting the environment are now included as core aims, alongside the general conservation of stocks and the protection of juveniles. The Commission has also taken into account the need to ensure that all measures are controllable, and that they help fishers reduce their costs, rather than adding to them.

New measures introduced in this proposal specifically to help cut down on discards, and which would apply throughout the North Sea and North East Atlantic, include:

  • provisions for Member States to implement real-time closures of areas where strong concentrations of juveniles are detected for periods of up to 10 days;
  • a reduction in the number of species subject to a minimum landing size, to focus on the target species of the fisheries concerned;
  • the general application of the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) rule that, when undersized fish account for more than 10% of the catch of a target species, the vessel must change gear or move on;
  • greater flexibility in the application of by-catch rules designed to discourage discarding.

Member States and Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) will now also be able to present discard reduction plans to the Commission which, if accepted, may lead to derogations from certain technical measures.

The proposed Council Regulation would be complemented by more detailed Commission regulations, specifying rules for the North Sea, North Western Waters, South Western Waters and fisheries covered by the Pelagic RAC. A separate Commission regulation would also be issued for French Guiana. The Commission will launch consultations with the Member States and the RACs on the possible contents of these more detailed regulations in the coming days.

Technical measures play a crucial role in ensuring sustainable fisheries, alongside catch and effort limitations, and are particularly valuable in protecting fish stocks at specific stages in their life cycle (juveniles, reproduction). They typically include such provisions as minimum landing sizes, rules governing mesh size and composition of catches, closed areas and seasons, and the types of fishing gear which may or may not be used.

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