Most Short-term Yet – Council neglects responsible management

Published on May 16, 2012

In spite of overwhelming evidence demonstrating the benefits of rebuilding European fish stocks by applying the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) model to fisheries management, a large majority of Ministers in yesterday’s Council meeting spoke out against the 2015 target proposed by the Commission.

The EU committed itself to the MSY target by signing the conclusions at Johannesburg already in 2002. This is reflected in the Commission’s proposal for a new basic Regulation as part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, aiming for the EU to “restore and maintain populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the MSY by 2015”.  However, many Member States have failed to commit themselves to this target so far and the Danish Presidency therefore called for a structured discussion at this week’s Council meeting in order to move forward.

The Council roundtable began with the Swedish Minister, Eskil Erlandsson, attempting to lead his fellow Ministers. He clearly supported the MSY principle while referring to an OECD report demonstrating the value of rebuilding fish stocks. However, one after one, his colleagues failed to demonstrate similar leadership, referring to the short-term problems of making the transition.

Several Member States discussed issues surrounding the application of the MSY principle in mixed fisheries. Moreover, many supported application of MSY through multiannual management plans (MAPs). These positions, however, will most likely lead to further inaction. While it may not be possible to reach BMSY for all stocks in a mixed fishery simultaneously, quotas can be set below FMSY tomorrow, which would lead to fish stocks rebuilding toward MSY levels (more details can be found here). Moreover, all proposed MAPs are currently on hold due to the impasse between Council and Parliament over whether the co-decision principle applies.

Ironically, the Council meeting took place on the same day as the American National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produced its annual report on the status of U.S. fisheries. Since 2006, when a new fisheries law came into place ensuring that quotas were set in line with scientific advice, the state of U.S. stocks has greatly improved. Today, 21% of stocks are overfished while 27 stocks have been rebuilt.

In contrast, of the assessed stocks, 63% in the Atlantic are overfished, 82% in the Mediterranean and 4 out of the 6 stocks for which scientific advice is available in the Baltic. Moreover, Commission figures show that “scientific advice about overfishing is missing for about two-thirds of the total allowable catches. In most cases this is because of missing information on catches, incomplete surveys or poor sampling. Providing scientific data on fisheries is a responsibility of Member States which is currently not fully met in a number of cases”.

At their press conference after Council, both Commissioner Damanaki and the Danish Minister Mette Gjerskov, seemed crestfallen and had to admit that given the lack of support from the Council at large, MSY may have to be delayed until 2020 for several fisheries and only applied “where possible”. Were this to happen, it would add yet another failure to the litany associated with the Common Fisheries Policy.

Council also discussed allocation of funds under the proposed European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). There was wide agreement that fisheries should be the primary focus of the EMFF, with less funding going to the Integrated Maritime Policy.