A sea change in fisheries

The reform of the EU’s fisheries control system is one of the most important debates currently under discussion in the European Parliament, and the result will have a significant impact on the future of the sector, explains Clara Aguilera.
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In November last year, the European Parliament declared a climate emergency and fully committed to the goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2050. This will require a transformation in mentality throughout society, including the fisheries sector.

To ensure that the measures included in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) achieve their intended results, we will need a control system that is simple, transparent and effective. It must also guarantee effective, consistent and up-to-date compliance across EU Member States, without any extra administrative burden and additional effort for public administrations.

We must achieve the harmonisation of the EU’s fisheries control and inspection system and put an end to the overriding feeling of injustice among Europe’s fishermen. This is currently the case, with several different rating and sanctioning criteria in place, which vary according to the European country the fishing vessel is in.

“We will need a control system that is simple, transparent and effective. It must also guarantee effective, consistent and up-to-date compliance across EU Member States”

The reform of fisheries control is, together with the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the Farm to Fork and Biodiversity strategies, one of the most important debates currently being discussed in the European Parliament, and the result will have a significant impact on the future of European fisheries.

This reform is far-reaching - amending five regulations - and contains many issues such as inspection and sanctions systems, monitoring of vessels to ensure reliable data and combat illegal fishing, a specific focus on small-scale fishing, traceability in the food chain, and more.

The sector needs to be updated to ensure that modernisation and new technologies can help strengthen control in new challenging areas facing the fisheries sector such as the obligation to land, traceability and labeling – including the collection of data on recreational fisheries - as well as improved data exchange.

The most controversial issue is that of onboard cameras. According to expert opinion, the only way to carry out effective control of the landing obligation is to equip a minimum percentage of fishing vessels - identified as being at high risk of not complying with landing obligations - with cameras and complemented by a voluntary system available to other vessels.

We are in the middle of a debate with the other parliamentary groups to shape the European Parliament’s opinion on the future control regulation which we hope to vote on in the Fisheries Committee in November. The second issue of particular relevance to the European fisheries sector is the completion of the EMFF trilogues and the agreements reached after the fifth trilogue.

Parliament accepted an Action Plan for small scale or artisanal fisheries, which, if approved, should give much-needed support to this artisanal sector as until now national support has been inadequate. Another relevant issue in the future EMFF is the possibility of presenting regional Operational Programmes, in addition to the single national Programmes for each Member State.

This would bring fisheries decisions closer to home with more direct regional government participation. There still are some issues that we do not know for certain will end up with an agreement, such as the implementation of the multiannual plans established for different sea basins, or more holistic treatment and support for the most outlying regions.

I believe that an agreement will soon be concluded, and I hope that it will be more tailored to the needs of Europe’s fisheries sector than the current EMFF. Concluding with a brief comment on the Strategies included in the European Green Deal.

The first of these, “Farm to Fork” - or rather “Sea to Table” in the case of fisheries - comprises very little on sea food; but rather seems to be tagged on as an addendum as opposed to a new vision on seafood. As such, I believe that the measures proposed by Parliament can improve on this by introducing new aspects.

“The sector needs to be updated to ensure that modernisation and new technologies can help strengthen control in new challenging areas facing the fisheries sector such as the obligation to land, traceability and labeling”

The Biodiversity Strategy has a greater impact than the actions and measures proposed for maritime and fisheries management. However, while environmental sustainability is widely accepted, the same is not true of social sustainability, which is equally important for the future of Europe’s fisheries sector.

Moreover, the scientific basis of some of the proposals appears dubious to me and I believe that scientific support is essential for taking certain decisions in this sector. We have an extensive debate ahead of us in delivering Parliament’s opinion on the two Strategies presented by the European Commission, and in my opinion, it is important to make some changes to the objectives and measures. We will have the opportunity to do so over the coming months as we head towards the end of the year. 

Read the most recent articles written by Clara Aguilera García - Incentives and strong commitment needed to fight antimicrobial resistance

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