Brussels, October 23rd , 2001 - On Thursday in Strasbourg, the European Parliament will vote on a proposal by the European Commission (1) which would prolong the Multi-Annual Guidance Programme IV (MAGP IV) (2) by one year and attempt to close some of its most blatant loopholes. The Commission wants to prevent the use of public aid by a given Member State for the renewal or modernisation of fishing vessels if the reductions have not been achieved in all the segments of the fleet of that Member State. The other amendment would remove the possibility to increase fishing capacity on the grounds of safety. Any such increase would have to be found within the existing capacity limits.
The European Parliament Fisheries Committee is proposing to considerably weaken this proposal(3) " “The capacity of the world's fishing fleets to catch fish is far over sustainable level for fish stock. The EU, as the fourth fishing power in the world is no exception. It is clear from the ever worsening situation of over-exploitation of fish stocks in EU waters that fleets operating there are in a situation of excess capacity”, declared Helene Bours of Greenpeace International.
Following a mid-term review of MAGP IV in May this year, the European Commission announced it was not meeting its targets and should be immediately strengthened. Instead of the overall reduction of 15% as initially proposed, the Commission noted that MAGP IV might deliver only 5% or less and that the real level of fishing may have even increased since 1997 (4). The Commission also noted that :' This excess capacity is a threat both to fish stocks and to other forms of marine life affected as by-catch, and is not compatible with sustainable development."
Not only are the targets for reducing fishing capacity too low to ensure the recovery of fish stocks but, it was incorrectly assumed, that building new vessels or modernising existing ones would not result in an overall increase in capacity. However, the new ships are frequently better at catching fish than the vessels they replace, as they take advantage of recent technological developments which considerably increase their fishing efficiency.
"The EU must remember and abide by its international commitments," Bours added. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (UN FAO) Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries provides that States should take measures to prevent or eliminate excess fishing capacity and should ensure that levels of fishing effort are commensurate with sustainable use of fishery resources. The EU is clearly not fulfilling that requirement.
In February 1999, the UN FAO Committee on Fisheries adopted the International Plan of Action for the Management of Fishing Capacity. It states that "the issues of excess fishing capacity in world fisheries is increasing concern. Excessive fishing capacity is a problem that, among others, contributes substantially to overfishing, the degradation of marine fisheries resources, the decline of food production potential, and significant economic waste."
Greenpeace considers that the European Parliament and the EU Council of Fisheries Ministers must adopt the changes proposed for next year by the Commission. It is also pressing for a fundamental review of the EU policy on fishing fleets capacity to be conducted with the view to adopting efficient measures to effectively eliminate excess fishing capacity.
As fishing capacity is reduced, priority should be given to the elimination of that capacity which causes the greatest environmental damage (5). Those measures should also ensure that the EU does not just transfer it to other regions of the world. The FAO plan of action on fishing capacity requires that programmes to reduce excess fishing capacity should not result in simply shifting fishing fleets to other regions of the world to continue their overfishing.
Many EU fishing vessels have been transferred to other countries and reflagged, sometimes even to flags of convenience. The European Commission is also proposing an amendment to the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (6) (EU fisheries subsidy policy) which would prohibit the use of public funds to reflag EU fishing vessels to "flag of convenience" countries. So far it seems to have the support of both the European Parliament and the Member States.
Notes to the editor:
(1) COM(2001) 322 final - 2001/0128 (CNS) - Proposal for a COUNCIL DECISION amending Council Decision 97/413/EC concerning the objectives and detailed rules for restructuring the Community fisheries sector for the period from 1 January 1997 to 31 December 2001 with a view to achieving a balance on a sustainable basis between resources and their exploitation.
(2) See Attwooll report - ref A5 316/2001 - Restructuring of Community fisheries
(3) The Multi-Annual Guidance Programmes (MAGPs) are a series of national programmes designed to limit or reduce the capacity of fishing fleets, most recently over the period 1997-2001. The aim of these programmes is to bring EU fishing fleets into balance with available resources, one of the stated objectives of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
(4)) The problem of excess fishing capacity is also directly linked to excessive or inappropriate investment, aid or subsidies to fisheries. In 1993, the EU Court of Auditors concluded that the 1987-1991 Multi-Annual Guidance Programme (MAGP II), combined with the European Commission subsidy policy between 1987 and 1990, had in fact resulted in an increase in capacity.
(5) One of the principles of the FAO plan of action on fishing capacity states that: "The management of fishing capacity should be designed to achieve the conservation and sustainable use of fish stocks and the protection of the marine environment consistent with the precautionary approach, the need to minimize by-catch, waste and discard and ensure selective and environmentally safe fishing practices, the protection of biodiversity in the marine environment, and the protection of habitat, in particular habitats of special concern". In addition to the use of quantitative criteria (such as fishing mortality, power and gross tonnage) as a guide to the amount of capacity to be reduced, qualitative criteria should be used in identifying what type capacity is to be reduced such as degree of bycatch leading to waste and discards, damage to the marine environment , employment provided to fishermen.
(6) COM(2001) 322 final - 2001/0129 (CNS) Proposal for a COUNCIL REGULATION amending Regulation (EC) No 2792/1999 laying down the detailed rules and arrangements regarding Community structural assistance in the fisheries sector