One of the major advances in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013 was that for the first time, the EU external fleet (EU-flagged vessels fishing outside EU waters) has been brought under the jurisdiction of the CFP.
This means that the position of the EU internationally must be based on the best scientific advice, with the objective of maintaining fish stocks above levels capable of producing the maximum sustainable yield.
Our vessels must now comply with internationally agreed rules. The bilateral agreements with third countries or sustainable fisheries partnership agreements (SFPA) will include provisions such as an exclusivity clause and a section concerning respect for human rights and democratic practices.
These agreements should be of mutual benefit to the EU and to the third country and its local population. Furthermore, they must take into account the combined fishing effort of both EU and local fleets, to prevent over-fishing.
These changes are very promising and, provided they are correctly implemented, mean fishing will be practiced in a more responsible way in countries the EU has agreements with. Some of these practices are already included in agreements and the provisions meant formalising them in the CFP basic regulation.
There are, however, other activities that could be considered part of the external dimension. These include private agreements between EU companies and third country governments, joint ventures between EU companies and local partners in third countries and chartering arrangements. None of these activities currently fall under the scope of the CFP.
Currently, the European Commission isn't informed when a private agreement is signed or a joint venture is set up, so it has little understanding of how extensive such practices actually are.
One of the objectives is to seek information on the extent to which they occur and how important their fishing activities are relative to the classic external dimension, i.e. bilateral fisheries agreements and regional fisheries management organisations.
Fish is one of the world's most traded commodities and the EU is the world's largest market for fish, so international trade is very much a part of the external dimension of the CFP. Trade, however, already has a complex set of rules and regulations, so, in this instance, it is a question of making sure that our trading rules are consistent with the CFP and don't undermine it.
For instance, our bilateral and multilateral trade agreements must not permit trade in illegally-caught fisheries products, so trade law must explicitly recognise and support the EU regulation on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.
EU citizens also work on vessels flying non-EU flags, for example as a captain or fishing master, and the basic regulation and the IUU regulation already include their activities in their scope.
Ideally, EU-fishing activities in third countries are meant to function as a blueprint for others operating in the same waters. By setting the standards, we can push countries outside of the union to apply the same rules as the EU internal fishing fleet.
Whether this strategy works is a question for the future, as the agreements are only fully evaluated when they have come to an end.
It's not easy to grasp the full extent to which EU-vessels are fishing outside of the official bilateral EU-third country agreements; in fact, we lack even the most basic information.
One important initiative of this report has been to request comprehensive data on which the following initiative report will be based.
Other important problems we are facing include the levels of illegal fishing vessels from other big fishing nations such as China and Russia.