“Producer organisations can play a more meaningful role in fisheries management”

Struan Stevenson presents his main proposals in the report on the Common Market Organisation. The Commission plan to distribute by-catch to NGOs and charities would be disastrous and have a direct impact on the market, he writes.

There are 214 Producer Organisations (POs) in the EU. Brussels should offer a basket of options for day-to-day management, from which the Member States can choose the most appropriate for their own particular fishery. POs can play a more meaningful role in management issues including the allocation of quotas and the management of effort.

Transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) should be voluntary rather than mandatory and Member States must have the flexibility to allocate rights over only a 7/8-year period, rather than 15 years. Member States must also have the final decision on whether such rights are tradable at all.

Criteria must be clearly defined on the minimum number of members a PO can have to be viable. Smaller POs should be merged.

Trans-national POs should be encouraged in zones like the Irish Sea, the Mediterranean and the Baltic, so that everyone would benefit from common and binding market rules.

The internationalisation of POs or the creation of transnational associations will enable companies to become competitive at international level, to meet the 2020 strategy to create new markets outside the EU.

On discards, POs will play an important role. Long-term management plans should have measures for catch quotas, technical measures, and real-time closures, to eliminate by-catch. The Commission proposal to use POs to distribute fish that otherwise would have been discarded, to NGOs, charities or people on social welfare benefits, would be disastrous and have a direct impact on the market, depressing prices further. At best, such fish could be used for bait or for the fishmeal and fish oil industry, with sufficient compensation paid to fishermen to cover their costs in landing these otherwise surplus fish. There should also be financial assistance from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to get lower value and less familiar fish products onto the market.

There are examples of electronic markets working successfully in various parts of the EU. There is also scope for using modern technology to improve market intelligence by rolling out the use of electronic markets across the EU and linking them to e-logs and VMS systems.

Any system of interference with the free market, such as the proposed storage mechanism system, trigger prices and the minimum price system, must be handled with extreme care. €45 million has been allocated in the EMFF over 5 years for freezing fish, where storage costs will be a co-responsibility between POs and the EU.

Doing away with the minimum price intervention mechanism will incentivise POs to ensure better market practices.

The Commission could establish minimum rules for eco-labelling and introduce their own eco-label. Labels must be clear and comprehensible for consumers to understand. The date of landing should be mandatory and the date of catch should be voluntary. Quality should be the key factor for labelling, depending not only on the date of catch but also on technological aspects such as the control of environmental conditions like temperature and humidity, together with measures concerning processing, procedures management and packaging/packing materials.

As far as canned fish products are concerned, mandatory information requires a date, whether or not the catch is sustainable, plus information about whether the item has been frozen and defrosted.

A ‘Best before date’ would be better than a mandatory catch or first-landing date. There can be full traceability on the barcode.

Imports must comply with the same regulations as those imposed within the EU, not only on ecological grounds, but also embracing socio-economic issues.

Current rules governing trade in fisheries and aquaculture products are working satisfactorily. Any new legal basis for trading in these products must reflect the status quo.

There is a global need to expand aquaculture to meet growing demand for fish against a background of declining wild fish stocks. Professional organisations, including POs, inter-branch organisations and federations, should be given access to ‘toolbox’ measures to help promotion and communication actions at national and international levels and give added-value to their members.

The proposal to create a new Advisory Council for aquaculture should be supported. This should be a single EU entity, with headquarters and staff, like the existing Pelagic and Long Distance RACs. Indeed there is a general need to strengthen and consolidate the existing Regional Advisory Councils, ensuring that they become real advisory bodies for the European Commission.

Struan Stevenson
Member of the European Parliament & Vice-Chair of the Fisheries Committee.
Rapporteur for the Common Organisation of the Market (CMO) in fisheries and aquaculture products, which is one of the three legislative proposals in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Struan Stevenson’s draft report will be presented in the Fisheries Committee 21 March 2012.

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