The activities of EU vessels operating in third countries and on the high seas were under the spotlight during the meetings of the Fisheries Council and the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee 19–20 March.
On 20 March, MEP Isabella Lövin presented her draft report on the External dimension of the CFP, one of the six pillars of the CFP reform package.
The activities of EU fishing vessels outside EU waters have long been controversial. Member States with significant long distance fleets, such as Spain and France, often push for increased access to fishing grounds and favourable economic conditions for their vessels, while other states place third country interests and the protection of biodiversity as the key concern.
Lövin’s report expresses general support for the European Commission’s Communication on the external dimension of the CFP. However the rapporteur calls for a strengthening of the proposed actions of the Commission to improve the standards of EU actions. In particular, efforts should be made to ensure bilateral access agreements with third countries are fully transparent, there is a human rights clause in each agreement and that the surplus to which the EU has access has been scientifically demonstrated. The draft report also calls for an end to so-called “flag-hopping”, where EU vessels reflag to take advantage of fishing opportunities elsewhere and then reflag to the EU again to benefit from fishing opportunities available under a bilateral fisheries agreement.
The rapporteur also states that the scope of the communication, which focuses on Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and bilateral fisheries agreements, is too narrow and excludes many EU fishing activities. These include private agreements between EU ship owners and third countries, joint ventures by EU companies in third countries and activities by EU nationals on non-EU vessels. The report therefore calls for the EU and the Member States to take more responsibility in controlling EU vessels operating under such conditions.
The presentation of Lövin’s report came the day after the Fisheries Council agreed a set of conclusions on the same issue. These conclusions, an evident compromise between the Member States, did state a commitment to apply the same rules to EU vessels in EU waters and elsewhere and to respect human rights. “I am very pleased that sustainability, democracy and human rights from now on will be preconditions when the EU enters into agreements with third countries. We have a responsibility to ensure sustainability – also when fishing outside EU waters”, declared the Danish chair, Mette Gjerskov, after the meeting.
Although the Parliament’s report and the conclusions of the Council are not legally binding, they are important in that they will provide the basis for each institution to influence the External chapter of the future CFP basic regulation.
The Lövin report will be voted in Fisheries Committee in May, with the plenary vote expected during the July plenary session of the Parliament.