National parliamentarians clash on dates for recovery of fish stocks

Major differences between member states’ views on the fishery reform became clear during an interparliamentary debate in Brussels on Tuesday.

Southern member states emphasised social issues and northern states requested a strict timeframe for the recovery of fish stocks, as a total of 45 parliamentarians from 21 EU national parliaments participated in a discussion on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday 28 February.

Social and environmental dimensions
“We had expected a more social perspective for the reform,” said a Greek Member of Parliament. The same concern was also voiced by parliamentarians from Spain, Italy and France. A French parliamentarian said that Commissioner Damanaki ought to be talking more about fishing people and less about the fish. MPs from Mediterranean countries said that the decreased fishing pressure and speedy recovery of fish stocks proposed by the Commission would threaten jobs in the fishing industry.

The Common Fisheries Policy has so far put economic, social and environmental priorities on an equal footing. A Swedish parliamentarian said that in this reform, environmental sustainability must be prioritised, as it is not possible to take any social responsibility if there is no fish in the sea.

Small scale fishers and TFCs
Most member states said they resisted making transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) mandatory. Although some parliamentarians were not against TFCs altogether, they said it should be up to each member state to decide if they want them.

The only person who spoke against this view was a Spanish MP who said that not only should TFCs be mandatory, they should also be tradable between member states.

A French deputy said that TFCs would lead to financial speculation which would be a ruin to all small scale fishing ports.

In response to these concerns, Commissioner Maria Damanaki underlined that small scale fishing vessels are getting special treatment by being excluded from the proposed TFC system, effectively leaving 80 percent of EU vessels out of the trading scheme. The TFCs are directed at large scale industrial vessels, the 20 percent of vessels that land 60 percent of European catches, Damanaki said.

At this point in the reform, however, it may not matter what the Commission proposal actually says, because the proposal is now being amended by the European Parliament and Council in co-decision. If the national parliamentarians, member state governments and the European Parliament think (or argue) that the proposal on TFCs includes small scale fishers, these concerns will affect how the proposal is amended in the Council and the European Parliament.

Stock recovery and Maximum sustainable yield
How quickly the recovery of fish stocks should take place was also a major topic for discussion.

Members of Parliament from France, Latvia, Spain and Ireland said that the date for reaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY) should be set later than 2015, which is the date proposed by the European Commission. They said that MSY by 2015 was either not realistic or would have dire social consequences for fishermen.

In response, MEP Ulrike Rodust, rapporteur for the basic regulation, said that while the biomass Bmsy is not biologically possible for all stocks by 2015, fishing mortaility Fmsy is both possible and realistic and should be the goal.

She got support for this approach from Austrian, German, Swedish and British Members of Parliament.

Watch the debate
Not all parliamentarians that spoke during the debate belong to their countries’ governing parties. But if the views they expressed are representative of national sentiments to any extent, this debate may give some insight into the kind of conflicts that are taking place behind closed doors in the Council.

This debate was open to the public and the video recording is published on the European Parliament’s website.

> Watch the video recording of the meeting
> Read Commissioner Maria Damanaki’s speech

Axel Naver

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