“Fishing rights should be transferable throughout Europe”

Now it is Spain against the rest of Europe. Javier Garat, the Secretary General of Cepesca, the Spanish Fishing Association, wants to see tradeable fishing rights at the EU level. Other countries fear their fisheries will be bought out. Mr Garat refers to the common market rules, and how they should apply to fisheries.

Before beginning my contribution on the rights of transferable fishing rights in the EU, which will certainly create some “controversy” among readers of the website ……

…. I would like to congratulate Isabella on the really interesting initiative she has begun with the creation of this website to promote debate on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and to thank her most sincerely for accepting my contribution.

Firstly, it must be obvious that the Spanish are committed to sustainable and responsible fishing which will allow us to continue fishing in the future, to continue to maintain a socio-economic fabric which is so important in areas of our country which are highly dependent on fishing, to continue providing European citizens with such a healthy and nutritious source of proteins and, of course, to conserve marine ecosystems and stocks in “a good state of health”.

Until now, for various reasons, the CFP has not been as effective as we would have liked. The management of fisheries, based mainly on the setting of Total Allowable Catches (TACs), distributed among the member States in the form of quotas according to ‘relative stability’ distribution factors, has introduced serious inefficiencies both at the Community market level and within fishing businesses. In the opinion of the Spanish Fishing Association, this distribution factor, which was set 27 years ago, no longer remotely reflects the corresponding balance between the a country’s dependence on fishing and its actual fishing potential in Community waters.  For this reason, over the years there have been many examples of “quota hopping”, well as many exchanges of quotas or “swaps” between the different member States.

In our opinion, it does not make sense that the fishing sector (as far as fishing rights are concerned) should be the only economic activity in the EU in which the rules of the internal market are not applied, despite the fact that articles 26.2 and 38.1 of the Lisbon Treaty so provide.  Conversely, this is not the case with the market for fish products, in which these goods can freely circulate.

To prevent these inefficiencies and to achieve a more efficient and sustainable management of fishing resources, we believe that it is essential to set up a system of management based on individual transferable fishing rights throughout the EU, whether in the form of quotas or fishing effort. Furthermore, we are convinced that it is necessary to update relative stability, by converting it into “dynamic” relative stability.

In general, the experience in many countries in which this system has been applied has been very positive, and since the 1970s the FAO itself has been promoting its use in many of its publications.

In almost all cases, it has been shown that fishing rights engender a sense of conservation and responsibility among fishermen, which is essential for the management of any fishery. It allows fishing companies to make long-term plans, programming their activities throughout the year according to their interests, and adjusting their range of produce to the requirements of the market and the fishing grounds. It also allows the capacity of the fishing fleet to be adjusted to existing resources, thereby eliminating over-capacity in the fisheries where it exists; it reduces the ‘rush to fish’ and increases the safety of the crews, by avoiding fishing in more dangerous locations. It has also been shown to reduce discards.

The authors of the article “Can Catch Shares Prevent Fisheries Collapse?” analysed the figures for 11,135 fisheries throughout the world between 1950 and 2003. Of these, 121 were managed using fishing rights. After their analysis, the authors were able to show that the fisheries with fishing rights were better managed than the others.

In any case, there is no one solution for all fisheries. The systems of fishing rights must be adapted to each situation and each fishery to reflect the particular social and cultural features of each one. We believe that fishing communities are capable of managing fisheries better than governments, but they must be given the tools to do it.

Although it has been shown that a system of management based on fishing rights could be applied to all types of vessel, in both the deep-sea and inshore fishing fleets, it is clear that there are many misunderstandings concerning the consequences of its application to small-scale fishing fleets. To avoid the risks which some commentators mention (concentration of the rights of small businesses in large companies), it will be necessary to adopt certain safeguards allowing them to operate with the necessary legal security.

Nevertheless, the road to a system of management based on fishing rights will not be an easy one. There are a series of challenges which have to be resolved first, namely: the initial distribution, the security and durability of the rights granted, transferability, the necessary safeguards, the social implications and the implementation of socio- economic measures for those outside the system.

Contrary to the statement of Commissioner Damanaki, we believe that fishing rights should be transferable throughout the EU, thereby guaranteeing observance of the previously mentioned principles of the internal market. We further believe that, to guarantee the legal security of the businesses, there should be a Community-wide register of fishing rights managed by the European Commission or a specialist organisation.

In any event, and given the opposition which is apparent in the European small-scale fishing fleets, especially in the Mediterranean countries, very serious consideration will be required before applying this system to these fleets which oppose them, as it has been shown on many occasions that regulations cannot be imposed on fishermen unless they accept them; if they do not, the measures always fail.

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