Failed EU fisheries policy requires serious rethink

Written by João Ferreira on 7 September 2015 in Opinion

Current fisheries agreements are in contradiction to their stated objectives, argues João Ferreira.

The European Union has been making fisheries agreements with third countries for decades. The majority of these countries, although rich in fisheries resources, are typically lesser economically developed countries. 

Their economies are weak and lack diversity; there are many social problems and the infrastructure for dealing with them is poor.

These agreements usually include a dimension for development - today called sectoral support, but its effects have been limited. As a result, a substantial portion of the objectives of the so-called partnership agreements in the fisheries field (with the new reform of the common fisheries policy, the qualifier "sustainable" was added to them) have failed. 


Policies to promote the sustainable development of the fisheries sector have not been a success, particularly in developing countries. Generally, fisheries agreements have been reduced to transferring money to developing countries in exchange for being able to exploit their fishery resources. This does not tally with their stated objectives - if anything, it contradicts them.

What fisheries agreements ought to be doing is encouraging developing countries to exploit their own resources, both for domestic consumption and for export. This would increase the added value of fish products and better share the wealth generated by keeping it in its country of origin.

We need urgent measures to reverse the course followed in recent decades. There needs to be more cohesion between the sectoral support provided within the scope of fisheries agreements and the European development fund. They should work together when setting targets and when deciding where to spend their budgets. 

Their cooperation must include the adoption of adjustment procedures, to be articulated with the third country, whenever a departure from the objectives set out is detected.

Gathering updated scientific data on fish stocks and on the effects of global fishing efforts in the waters of each country is essential. A scientific assessment must take place before the signing of each agreement and developing countries must be supported in developing their own capacities in this area too.

The problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing needs to be tackled decisively. Many ships do not report their catches, nor are they inspected. The data supplied by the vessels is not checked and there is no clear identification of the species caught.

Fisheries agreements can and must make a more effective contribution to overcoming these problems. We must improve conditions of access to EU markets for developing countries. 

If followed and put into practice, these guidelines could make an effective contribution to promoting sustainable development of the fisheries sector in the countries the EU has fisheries agreements with. 

It would also help realise one of the main aims of the external dimension of the common fisheries policy - which has remained unfulfilled for decades.


About the author

João Ferreira (PT) is Parliament's European United Left/Nordic Green Left group shadow rapporteur on the common rules with a view to the application of the external dimension of the CFP, including fisheries agreements


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