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Brussels, 31 December 2009

Reform of Common Fisheries Policy control framework – questions and answers

Why do we need a new control regulation?

The fisheries control regulation in force until now dates back to 1993. It has since been amended a dozen times, in particular in 1998 to include the control of fishing effort, and in 2002 during the last reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The resulting system has serious shortcomings that prevent it from being as effective as it should be. As both the European Commission 1 and the European Court of Auditors 2 have highlighted, the current system is inefficient, expensive, complex, and it does not produce the desired results. This in turn impacts negatively on the implementation of other elements of the CFP and undermines the success of conservation and effort management initiatives. Control failures thus contribute to the negative performance of the CFP, which appears unable to deliver on its fundamental objective.

Despite several years of implementation of the 2002 CFP reform, which has introduced a number of potentially powerful conservation measures, the state of resources in EU waters remains worrying. Some 88% of stocks are overfished, and this threatens both fish stocks and the livelihoods of fishermen. If we allow this situation to continue, the negative impact on fisheries resources, the fishing industry and regions dependent on fishing is likely to be very serious. That is why the Commission has proposed this substantial reform of the CFP control system, addressing all its shortcomings and modernising its approach.

What are the main shortcomings of the existing system?

There are three main kinds of problems with the current system:

  • A control and inspection framework which has not kept pace with changes in fisheries management, and remains disproportionately focused on activities at sea.

  • A low infringement detection rate and lack of effective deterrent sanctions have not encouraged a culture of compliance in a world where too many vessels are chasing too few fish.

  • The Commission lacks the powers it needs to exercise full control over the Member States' implementation of CFP rules, and to intervene when necessary to ensure a level playing field.

The cumulative and ad hoc nature of previous revisions and amendments means that the current framework is also greatly in need of simplification.

Will the new system really be more effective?

The new regulation takes a focused approach to addressing each of the problems listed above, and introducing concrete measures to correct current failings.

  • Control and inspection will be focused where it is most effective, through an approach based on systematic risk analysis. Inspection procedures will be standardised and harmonised for all stages along the chain, including transport and marketing. Use of modern data-processing and communications technologies will be extended. Where possible, data processing will be automated, and subject to systematic and comprehensive cross-checking. The result will be a system which is more effectively targeted, more effective, and also less costly and burdensome to operate.

  • A point system for serious infringements will be introduced, which can lead to a fishing licence being suspended, or even withdrawn, after a certain number of points have been accumulated. New, more effective systems for sharing control data will be introduced, and the mandate of the Community Fisheries Control Agency will be extended, to enable it to play its role more effectively.

  • Commission officials will be given extended inspection powers, allowing them to carry out inspections on their own initiative without prior notification to the Member State concerned. Where failings are detected, the Member State will be given the opportunity to remedy the situation through an action plan drawn up in collaboration with the Commission. The Commission's powers to close fisheries when quotas are exhausted will be strengthened, and it will be able to impose financial sanctions on Member States for poor fulfilment of their obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy, including withholding funding granted under the European Fisheries Fund or to support their control systems.

Will the new system not cost more?

On the contrary, it will reduce administrative burdens and make the system less bureaucratic. The Commission's impact assessment found that with the reform adopted, the total administrative costs for operators would be reduced by 49% (from € 79 to 40 million), largely thanks to the extended use of modern technologies – i.e. the Electronic Reporting System (ERS), and Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) to all vessels over 12 metres long.

Existing paper-based tools (logbooks, landing declarations and sales notes) will be replaced at all stages of the fisheries chain. For example, the electronic logbook will lower the administrative burden for the fishermen, as certain basic information will be automatically recorded; when using a paper logbook, the fishermen has to fill in all information every time and on every sheet. The time spent filling in the logbook should be reduced by almost 70%, as the fishermen will only need to fill in the catch data.

The system will be quicker, more accurate, less expensive and will allow for the automated processing of data. It will also facilitate cross-checking of data and information, and the identification of risks. The result will be a more rational and risk-based approach in practice to control actions at sea and on land, which is inherently more cost-effective.

The new system will also remove the current obligation on Member States to transmit lists of fishing licences or fishing permits to the Commission. These will instead be made accessible electronically to the control services of their own country and of other Member States, and to the Commission.

How will the point system for serious infringements work?

The point system for serious infringements will basically work in the same way as the systems for traffic offences familiar to motorists in most Member States. The number of points to be attributed for specific infringements will be fixed in detailed rules. Every time a serious infringement is committed, the appropriate number of points will be attributed to the offender in the national registry of fishery offences of the flag Member State. Infringements committed in other Member States will be communicated to the flag Member State.

Any vessel which accumulates more than a certain number of points in a three-year period will have its fishing licence suspended for at least two months. For repeat offences the penalty increases to suspensions of four, eight and twelve months respectively. If, after the end of the fourth suspension period, the offender again incurs the necessary number of points, the fishing licence will be withdrawn for good. However, if the offender does not commit any serious infringements within three years of the previous such infringement, all points on the fishing licence will be deleted and he will start again with a clean slate.

Points stay with the vessel and are therefore transferred to the new owner if the vessel is sold on. Detailed rules for the point system will be drawn up at Community level in close cooperation with Member States. The relevant article of the new control regulation will only enter into force six months after the adoption of these detailed rules. Member States will also be required to establish a similar point system for masters of fishing vessel.

The point system neither introduces new sanctions nor defines serious infringements. It is based on serious infringements as defined in the regulation on fighting illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing 3 which will enter into force on 1 January 2010. These serious infringements reflect conduct particularly harmful to the conservation of fishing resources and can generally also be found in relevant control schemes of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. It should be noted, though, that Member States have broad discretion in including particular conduct under one of these serious infringements, as the relevant article on sanctions for serious infringements in the new control regulation provides that the defined activities are to be considered as serious infringements depending on the gravity of the infringement in question, by taking into account criteria such as the nature of the damage, its value, the economic situation of the offender and the extent of the infringement or its repetition.

How far will the regulation go in harmonising sanctions? Why is it necessary to do this?

The control regulation adopts the same approach as the IUU regulation, under which a maximum penalty must be imposed which is equivalent to at least five times the value of the fishery products obtained by committing a serious infringement or to at least eight times this value in the case of a repeated serious infringement.

This leaves sufficient leeway to take account of the particular details of each individual case. The aim of the new regulation is to ensure that the level of sanctions for serious infringements does not fall below a certain limit, so as to ensure a level playing field across the EU. Insofar as these limits are respected, the new regulation will not prescribe the actual sanction to be applied in any individual case.

How will the traceability system work in practice?

The new regulation introduces a comprehensive traceability system to track all fish and fisheries products throughout the market chain. Fisheries products will have to be packed in lots, on which certain minimum information (name of the species, live weight, catching or harvesting data, production unit, etc.) must be provided. This information must be made available to the competent authorities.

This information will also have to be entered into the validation system, where it will be cross-checked systematically with other information available for the products. The information for every lot must be available all along the production chain.

Where and to whom do the new rules apply?

The regulation applies to all fishing activities in EU waters. Hence it will apply also to the fishing activities of third countries in EU waters. In the case of bilateral agreements with third countries which contain specific provisions on control, these provisions will take priority over the regulation.

Furthermore, the regulation will apply to all EU vessels, irrespective of where they operate – including outside EU waters. However, it will not take priority over the special provisions contained in fisheries agreements between the EU and third countries in the waters of which EU vessels operate, or over the measures applied by Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

The regulation will also apply to nationals of EU Member States involved in fishing under non-EU flags, subject to the primary responsibility of the flag State.

When will the rules come into force?

The control regulation will enter into force on 1 January 2010. This date is significant, as it also marks the entry into force of the IUU regulation. These two regulations, together with the fisheries authorisations regulation already in force, will constitute the three arms of a comprehensive and workable control system for fisheries.

At the same time, the Commission has acknowledged that, Member States need a little more time to ready themselves fully to implement some measures in the regulation. For instance, a transition period is foreseen for provisions on the point system for serious infringements. All types of databases related to the new regulation (electronic databases for serious infringements and for inspection) will also benefit from the transition period. The same applies to a number of new control mechanisms, such as the certification of engine power scheme.

How will the new regulation affect recreational fisheries?

At the Council meeting in October 2009, the fisheries ministers agreed that, under the new regulation, catches by recreational fishermen will not be counted against the national quota of Member states. So recreational fishermen have nothing to fear.

From 2010, Member States will be required to evaluate the impact of some recreational fisheries – namely in respect of fish stocks subject to an EU recovery plan (one such example being cod). Reported catches must be sent to the Commission, which will then ask the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) for independent scientific advice on whether or not the impact is significant.

If – and only if – this impact is shown to be significant for the sustainability of the fishery concerned might specific management measures be taken in future by the Council.

For bluefin tuna rules already exist: International rules agreed under ICCAT, and transposed into EU law, indicate that there is an obligation on Member States to set up a quota for recreational fisheries and to register catches which will count against the national quota (Reg. 302). Also, recreational fishermen must seek authorisation to fish and may only bring back one bluefin tuna per fishing trip.

For more information:

Besides press release released today see also that published in November 2008 when control overhaul was proposed: IP/08/1710

Further information and documents can be found at:

1 :

COM/2007/0167 final

2 :

Commission reaction to the Court's report: see IP/07/1862 and MEMO/07/552

3 :

Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing

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