The UK Government has achieved a major step towards radical reform of the broken Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) today, as the EU Council has agreed a general approach which includes a commitment to ban the discarding of dead fish.
The meeting held in Luxembourg, was a long-awaited opportunity for EU Fisheries Ministers to agree genuine reforms to end ineffective micro-management from Brussels and address the public outrage over ‘discards’.
Following 24 hours of tense negotiations, the EU council did agreed that there should be a ban on discards but the date in which this will be achieved will be subject to further detailed negotiations. Provisional dates published by the Council would see a ban on discards in the ‘Pelagic’ fisheries (such as Mackerel and Herring) by 1st January 2014 and a ban on discards in ‘Whitefish’ fisheries (Cod, Haddock, Plaice, Sole) on a phased basis starting on 1 January 2015 and fully in place by 1 January 2018.
Leading negotiations for the UK, Richard Benyon, Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries, said:
“After years of pressing to eliminate discards it was always my aim to get the Council to agree to end this wasteful practice as soon as possible. While I am disappointed that the Council has not agreed the firm dates that I was seeking, a commitment to eliminating discards is a step in the right direction.
“I came to Luxembourg to achieve fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, to achieve healthy fish stocks, a prosperous fishing industry and a healthy marine environment - there is still a lot more work that needs to be done but I believe the agreement we have reached is an important step on the way to achieving that.”
The UK was also successful in getting the EU Council to agree to move powers away from Brussels so that Member States can work together regionally to develop management plans, and implement measures which are appropriate to their own fisheries. This ‘regionalisation’ was one of the key negotiating priorities for the Government who have campaigned against this over-centralised system.
Furthermore, overfishing has been one of the many failings of the current Common Fisheries Policy which is why the UK Government is keen for any new policy for to contain a clear legal commitment, and deadlines, to achieve Maximum Sustainable Yield as soon as possible. Following negotiations the Council have agreed legally binding limits on fishing levels to ensure scientific advice is taken into account when agreeing annual quotas. This would put concrete limits in EU law that have previously been less rigid political commitments.
Richard Benyon added:
“For far too long overly detailed decisions have been taken from Brussels and fishermen throughout Europe have been micro-managed - the agreement we reached today will hopefully see some of that power return back to Member States, working with their fishermen.”
As reform of the Common Fisheries Policy needs to be agreed by the EU Parliament it is unlikely that any changes will be agreed before the end of this year. What the EU Council has done in agreeing a ‘general approach’ to CFP reform is to send a clear signal to the Parliament on how EU Fishing Ministers would like to proceed.