Commission report on EU overcapacity branded “inadequate and lacking clarity”

Published on July 16, 2012

In their evaluation of national efforts during 2010 to achieve a sustainable balance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities, based on reports submitted by Member States, the Commission concluded that “it will be difficult to eliminate overcapacity in the short term if no changes are made to the current policy”.

The Court of Auditors was particularly scathing in its response to the report. They argued that “the rules under which Member States report are inadequate and lack clarity…with the consequence that it is impossible to derive conclusions regarding fishing capacity”. Previously the Court has identified overcapacity as the key problem for EU fisheries management.  Moreover, the Commission concluded that despite commitments to reduce overcapacity, Member States have failed in their obligation to do so. Member States reported a decrease in the number of vessels of 0.96%, coupled with reductions in tonnage and power of 3.8% and 2.5% respectively, however, the Commission criticised these efforts as being “hardly sufficient to compensate an estimated technical progress of 3% per year”.

Reports submitted by Denmark, Estonia and Sweden seem to indicate that their respective ITQ system have led to a concentration of fishing effort on fewer, more efficient vessels. In these cases, the reduction in tonnage and power outweigh the decreases in number of fishing vessels. However, due to the narrow definition of capacity used, we are unable to understand whether fishing capacity, in terms of the number of fish that can be caught by the available vessels, has actually decreased.

The Commission states that it “is difficult to verify whether the engine power is stated correctly” and that the measures used are too static and fail to capture technical progress. This is not an acceptable situation and it is hoped that future reporting addresses these issues under the framework of the new CFP. As the Court of Auditors criticism suggests, using the data to understand whether capacity and fishing opportunities match is not possible.

This report on capacity provides further evidence that Member States are failing to manage European fisheries effectively. Overcapacity has long been identified as one of the key problems driving overfishing, however, subsidies and quotas exceeding scientific advice have kept a bloated fleet in business.

Currently, several capacity regulating measures are already in place in EU fisheries management, namely long-term management plans, the entry-exit system, scrapping schemes and capacity ceilings. However, these measures are quantitative and fail to provide a vision for the type of European fleet we wish to see in the future. A policy of access criteria, which has been pushed to be included in the CFP by NGOs, would use the incentive of quota allocations to provide a structure to shape the fleet in a sustainable direction, without the need for taxpayer funding through subsidies or privatisation.

On a positive note though the General Approach, agreed by a majority of Council members in June, has acknowledged that where overcapacity is identified as a problem, action plans should be put in place to eliminate overcapacity (new GA Art.35). Moreover, the Council agreed to reinstall annual reporting requirements on the development of fishing capacity. These developments followed on from the Rodust (S+D, DE) draft report for the Fisheries Committee (PECH) on the basic regulation, that more stringent capacity evaluations would need to be submitted by Member States in the future. These recommendations are commendable, and it is hoped that future evaluations are specific enough to draw conclusions from.