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Reforming the Common Fisheries Policy: the journey ahead

European Commission - SPEECH/09/343   16/07/2009

Other available languages: none

SPEECH/ 09/343

Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Reforming the Common Fisheries Policy: the journey ahead

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED

P lenary session of the European Economic and Social Committee

Brussels, 15 July 2009

Mr President, Esteemed Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Many thanks for allowing me to address your plenary session today on the issue of reforming the Common Fisheries Policy. It promises to be a long and, possibly, a complex journey, yet one that is essential and will ultimately prove worthwhile.

Our ultimate objective is to achieve a healthy and sustainable marine environment capable of generating wealth for our fishing industry and nutritious food for our citizens.

The Commission's recent Green Paper on CFP reform, which launched a comprehensive consultation on all aspects of fisheries policy, marks the first step of this journey.

With the Green Paper, we have sparked a debate involving policy-makers, stakeholders and European citizens at large. We will sum up this debate early in 2010 and produce conclusions on the general direction that the CFP reform could take. Following an impact assessment and further consultations with stakeholders, the Commission will draft a proposal for a new basic regulation which will be presented to Council and the European Parliament in 2011, with a view to adoption before 2013.

I look forward in particular to hearing your informed views on the matters raised in the Green Paper. Given your knowledge of the issues at hand and the challenges ahead, I do not need to list them all. I would, however, like to touch on three specific areas that will be of interest to you: conservation management instruments; the economic dimension; and the social dimension. I will then go on to raise some relevant issues as potential food for thought.

I will start with conservation management instruments.

As we shift our focus towards Maximum Sustainable Yields, the ecosystem approach and integration with environmental policies, we need to reconsider conservation management instruments as well, and especially how we allocate fishing possibilities.

For the past 25 years we have used TACs and quotas and since 2002 we have gradually introduced effort restrictions as a complementary instrument.

Initially, TACs worked well as an appropriate means of sharing wealth. Indeed, together with relative stability, they remain a very straightforward way of conditioning access to resources. In the meantime however TACs have become too static a concept for our waters, where our fisheries are mostly mixed.

This therefore raises the question as to what could be the best suited management system for our stocks? We have, of course, looked to other countries such as Iceland and New Zealand, where individually tradable rights are used to manage fish stocks with apparently good results. We have, therefore, also put this option up for discussion in our Green Paper. Such a system of individually tradable rights functions with TACs, but it could also function with effort. We could envisage, for example, a system that functions entirely on the allocation of fishing effort for stocks or groups of stocks that are fished together. Such a system could work by allocating every vessel with an allowance in days at sea, which the vessel owner would manage throughout the year, and thereby providing the skipper with the ability to land all catches. This could be interesting for mixed fisheries since it may help do away with discards. It would also take away any reason to under-declare or falsely declare catches. Furthermore, it would be easier to control.

Some of you may now think “But what about relative stability?” The fact is that you could take today’s relative stability and transform it into effort. In doing so, the rights as apportioned between Member States would not be affected in any way. Furthermore, a vessel owner could decide to either use his effort rights himself or to rent them or sell them to another vessel owner. This could in turn help us to achieve the objective of having a smaller fleet commensurate to our resource base.

Again this is only one possibility among others. What we will need for the future is a formidable toolbox with which to tackle stock and ecosystem conservation. The challenge is to find the right combination of tools to meet our objectives and targets, taking account of regional specificities, wherever we can.

These tools should be embedded in long-term management plans, which are vital to our commitment to restoring our stocks to maximum sustainable yield by 2015. Doing this will also lay the foundation for a more prosperous fishing sector in the future, because there will be more fish to catch.

Our future discussions on this issue with stakeholders will also provide us with a link to other important topics, such as making industry more responsible for implementing the common policy and developing the concept of regionalisation.

The second area I would like to highlight is the economic dimension. First of all, we need to recognise that fisheries is only one small part of a much bigger economic picture. This is important to remember when it comes to discussing subsidies, for instance.

It is hard to assess how the current economic downturn, coupled with intermittent fuel hikes, has affected the fishing sector. What we can undoubtedly say is that the sector becomes very vulnerable when the economic climate worsens, and that fleet performance continues to fluctuate, even when TACs are high. Future profitability will have to come from increased productivity – which means smaller fleets.

Overcapacity has therefore to be addressed. Our policies up to now have not managed to find a remedy to it. In seeking to respond to overcapacity we may look at market-based instruments such as tradable rights, which have proved feasible elsewhere. Tradable rights could be looked into as a means towards achieving a balance between capacity and resources and, also, towards greater economic efficiency and profitability. Rights-based management is already in place in many Member States in one form or another. I believe that we should not shy away from discussing the option of further application of user rights which can be made individual and, where possible, transferable.

If we were to go down this road however, we would need to discuss very carefully the impact it would have on small-scale coastal fisheries and on large-scale fleets alike.

For small-scale fisheries, we might have to look at building some protection into our approach. Of course, I am not talking here about outright exemption from responsible and sustainable resource management. Many coastal communities however depend heavily on small-scale fisheries, and so, providing some form of protection would be a legitimate social objective. We would also have to look at the criteria used to determine what constitutes a small-scale fleet. All such issues merit further discussion.

The options for large-scale fleets include incentives to encourage Member States to apply rights-based management or to formulate legal provisions for its introduction. Whatever option is chosen, Member State competences must be respected. It is also critical to remember that rights-based management for large-scale fleets would, in my view, mean an end to subsidies.

The third area I will mention relates to social issues, which are chiefly a Member State preserve. As a result, the Green Paper makes limited reference to them.

However, this does not mean that we cannot harness the reform process to look into social issues and explore ways in which we can do more for the protection and dignity of the fishing profession.

Sadly, we must brace ourselves for a probable loss of on-board jobs as a result of fleet adjustment. This makes the need to seek ways of modernising the social dimension of fishing even more acute. I will highlight three possible options here.

One option might be to review remuneration, for instance through collective agreements. The potential advantages would be better recruitment, more professionalism and more stable revenues for fishers. However, the lack of a tradition of collective agreements in the industry could be a disadvantage, as could be the resultant limited financial flexibility, with the risk of decreasing profits and the loss of drive for higher-quality fishing.

Another potential option relates to extending rules on safety and working conditions to small vessels. This might help in achieving the aim of a socially sustainable profession. Of course, such an approach would be for Member States to take up; and the additional administrative and financial burden which might arise for small vessels would need to be considered carefully.

A third option might lie in a modernised approach to training in fisheries and marine activities. Properly recognised qualifications and lifelong education opportunities might lead to enhanced career prospects and open up avenues for more highly paid jobs both at sea and on land. We could look at channelling some EFF funds in this direction. The potential downside to be considered, however, would be the risk of increased costs and the potential for competition from cheaper, poorly paid labour from outside the EU.

On a broader level, as we seek to integrate fisheries into our maritime policy context, we might look at encouraging the fishing industry and coastal communities in general to diversify within the maritime economy, alongside traditional fishing. The connection with other dimensions, such as the environment and tourism, could become stronger and the industry's image could thereby be further improved. People leaving the catching sector could then take up new job opportunities within a diversified maritime economy, in our coastal regions. Lastly, the switch towards more selective and environmentally friendly fisheries may help safeguard – or even create – jobs.

In addition, whether this coastal development strategy should be supported by fisheries funds, by other Community structural funds, or by a combination of both is a question we will have to find the answer to in parallel with the CFP reform process.

Let me stress here that these are just some general thoughts as to potential options and topics which are part of our CFP reform debate. The whole ethos of this reform is that it is free of pre-emptive approaches. The Commission is ready to engage in discussion with all interested parties, listen to their views and learn from their experiences.

We should also bear in mind that the reform process is a complex jigsaw puzzle. The options taken up in one area will inevitably affect those in another. Our joint task, then, also lies in fitting the right pieces of the reform jigsaw together.

We have much to talk about in the months ahead. I know that we can rely on the Economic and Social Committee to be an incisive and insightful companion on our reform journey. You, more than most, have understood the need to turn the situation around. That is why your input in this pan-European team effort is so vital.

We cannot afford any half measures in securing a viable socio-economic future for our fishermen and coastal communities in a sustainable marine environment. This reform matters. It matters because we cannot afford to let the marine resources which ply our oceans and seas disappear. It matters because present and future generations of fishermen and coastal communities depend on the sea for their livelihoods. And it matters to Europe as a whole, because Europe's citizens rely on the fishing industry for healthy food, and – more importantly – because an economically and socially cohesive Union in which no-one is left behind is a Union at peace with itself.

I wish you all a pleasant summer recess.

Thank you.

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