As preparations are being made for the Council of Fisheries Ministers meeting in December, one of the most scandalous effects of the EU Common Fisheries Policy has been highlighted once again in the media. The fact that the CFP causes fishermen to discard perfectly good, edible, fish as direct result of the TAC and Quota system is unsustainable. The CFP does not measure the amount of fish caught – it only counts fish which are landed.
In 2003, the Council of Ministers asked the Commission to explore ways of reducing discards. According to the Commission itself, very little progress has been made until this year, when a new proposal was published. As the Commission itself states, doing nothing to reduce discards is not an option.
The Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament has debated the issue and recommended a detailed response to the Commission document.
Our Committee agreed that the CFP has a counter-productive approach to discards, and called for a new approach. Technical and other regulatory measures including gear restrictions designed to increase selectivity can be very effective, supplemented by temporary real-time closures and an obligation to change fishing grounds when discards are high.
MEPs are calling for more consideration to be given to the use of positive incentives, rewarding fishermen who fish "better" by not catching things that are not wanted. Different options exist to provide some sort of advantage or privilege to fishermen who use more selective gear or practices, while leaving up to them exactly what methods they use in particular fisheries. Scotland is leading the way in this respect with the industry, in cooperation with the Scottish Government initiating a voluntary system of real-time closures in certain sea areas. Under the scheme, if catches of small cod are detected, then further samples are taken and, if confirmed, a closed area of 15 miles square is created for a period of 21 days. Vessels from other Member States are being encouraged to follow the example.
At the forthcoming Council of Ministers meeting, when quotas for 2008 are being set, due account must be taken of the direct effect on the amount of discards caused. Scotland is once again setting an example. Having pioneered selective fishing gear types, we are now voluntarily closing areas to safeguard juvenile cod for future years. Our fishing dependent communities require, and deserve, to have some payback in the form of realistic quota levels and days at sea.
Of course it would be sensible and logical for Scotlandʼs fisheries minister Richard Lochhead to lead in EU negotiations for the UK, given our predominant interest in fisheries, but Westminster seems determined to resist such demands.
While we must focus, in the immediate term, on the annual quota horsetrading, attention is already being paid to the next review of the CFP in 2012.
In preparation for the review, the European Commission invited two experts to analyse the operation of the policy to date. The report, which was intended to be a confidential aid to the Commissionʼs thinking, has been leaked (copies available from me on request) and makes interesting reading. The 70 page document pulls no punches, and I summarise some of the headline conclusions here; The CFP is a top-down, command and control policy.......... making EU officials appear as the enemy of fishermen and placing an unmanageable burden on them. The CFP is an unpopular policy with both fishermen and conservationists. The objectives of the CFP are broad and guidance on how best to manage fisheries is poorly developed.
..........the operation of the Fisheries Council of Ministers makes accountability for decisions obscure. None of the above comes as a surprise to anyone in Scotland, where the disastrous effects of the failed CFP have been most keenly felt. There is no lack of clarity about who brought to bear this disastrous policy upon Scotland. It was a UK Tory government who signed us up to the CFP in the first place, a UK Labour government who agreed to the flawed ʻreformʼ of the policy in 2002, and now Gordon Brownʼs UK government is intent on signing us up to the Lisbon Treaty, which threatens to further entrench the CFP as an exclusive competence of the EU. That is why we must win independence for Scotland, so that we have the automatic right to represent our key interests in the EU, and other international bodies.