Discard ban dividing issue in Council negotiations

The Council is set to adopt a common position on the fisheries reform on 12 June. The most difficult issue that remains to be solved is the discard ban.

Member state representatives in Brussels are busy negotiating a compromise text with draft amendments to the basic regulation in the CFP reform. The goal is to adopt a so-called ‘General approach’, which outlines the Council’s position on the basic regulation.

Common positions have been reached on most issues during discussions at the level of government officials, but the final decisions on some details will be made by Ministers at their meeting on 12 June.

Discard ban – outstanding issue
Several sources with insight in the Council negotiations say that the discard ban is the most difficult issue that remains to be solved.

In particular member states disagree on the dates for a discard ban in the different fisheries, and on several details about how to handle the bycatch that cannot be avoided even with more selective gear.

Ending overfishing 2020
When it comes to ending overfishing – i.e. reaching catch levels compatible with the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – a majority of member states at this point are in favour of the compromise date 2020.

A draft compromise document dated 29 May 2012, seen by CFP reform watch, says that the CFP shall aim to restore and maintain fish stocks of harvested species “at least at levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. This exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015, where possible, and by 2020 for all stocks at the latest.

Some member states have defended the Commission’s proposal, which is that the EU shall aim for stock levels above those that can produce MSY by 2015, while a majority of member states highlight the difficulties of reaching MSY in mixed fisheries and want to set a later date.

Political message to the Parliament
A ‘General approach‘ is not a legally binding document, so there is no obligation for the Council to solve all the details at this stage. The purpose of the General approach is rather to send a political message from the Council to the European Parliament, which will vote on the basic regulation in November.

With some outstanding issues remaining to be solved, the meeting on 12 June will most likely go on until late in the night. Ministers are likely to reach an agreement, but there is nothing that obliges them to do so. It is possible, however unlikely, that the adoption of the General approach is postponed.

In the morning of 13 June, we will know the outcome.

Axel Naver

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