EU member states agree on reducing discards, but stop short of an outright ban. The decision early Wednesday morning means that negotiations between the Council and European Parliament can begin soon.
Update 6/3/2013: The final Council General Approach is now available. Download it here.
This week’s agreement only covers the issues that remained unresolved – mainly regarding discards – after the first part of the general approach, which was agreed in June 2012.
Reduction to 7% discards by 2019
According to a press release, the Council agreed they want to allow fishermen to discard 7% of their catches, after a phase-in period first allowing 9% for two years and then 8% for two more years.
7% corresponds to 355,000 tonnes of fish each year, based on Commission figures on 2009 EU catch data.
Ministers want to start with a discard reduction 2014 for pelagic fish, and then gradually introduce it for “species defining the fisheries” in other waters between 2015 and 2017, and for other species by 2019.
The Council discard reduction does not cover all species – only fish “subject to catch limits”.
Council sources further confirmed that the following changes were made to the text during the night, compared to proposals last week:
* Council removed the exemption on boarfish and blue whiting, meaning these species must be landed. (Article 15:2:d)
* 5% of every catch can be landed without being counted against the quota during a transitional period of two years, compared to last week’s proposal of three years. This provision shall only apply to vessels targeting demersal species. (article 15:4:c).
* Council deleted provisions to swap 5% of quota between member states (article 16:2).
26 member states behind compromise
Negotiations went on through the night and an agreement could not be reached until early Wednesday morning. The Irish fisheries minister Simon Coveney said the negotiations were “a little tense,” something other sources called an understatement.
There were two alliances of countries, sources said: one group of northern and landlocked member states calling for few exemptions from the discard reduction, and one group of mainly Mediterranean countries trying to have a late introduction of the discard reduction with many exemptions.
A Council source said a majority agreement could have been reached earlier if Council would have accepted to leave some large fishing nations outside the agreement. Ministers continued to strive to include as many member states as possible mainly for two reasons. Firstly, in order to get a reform that member states have signed up to and therefore will try to implement effectively. Secondly, because it was important to reach a final agreement on the Council’s position this week so that negotiations with the European Parliament can start according to the timetable.
In the end, only Sweden did not sign up to the agreement.
Reduction rather than ban
The Irish presidency issued a press release saying that ministers had agreed on the “introduction of a Europe wide discards ban”.
Several commentators, such as Saskia Richartz of Greenpeace, pointed out that if you allow 7% discards, it’s a reduction and not a “ban”.
It is estimated that discards constitute 23% of all catches today. Discarding 7% of all catches would therefore be a reduction.
Member states, however, use a different argument. Government officials, who will administer the new fisheries policy once it is in place, often say that there needs to be a culture of compliance among fishermen in order to make the policy work. A 7% exemption is easier to sell to fishermen, which is why member states want it that way.
Recent trials in the UK showed that with the right management tools it is possible to reach almost zero discards.
The Swedish fisheries minister Eskil Erlandsson said he did not back the decision because it was not ambitious enough. “I would have wanted the discard ban to be introduced quicker and without the loopholes that will allow a certain amount of discards,” he said.
The Spanish fisheries minister Arias Cañete saidthe deal was “reasonable” and would provide “flexibility” necessary to the Spanish fleet to meet the discard reduction “without unreasonable sacrifices”.
The French government in a press release called the agreement “pragmatic” and the timetable “realistic”.
Comment from the Parliament’s rapporteur
“This [7%] exemption is not an exemption but a loophole. Some Member States simply do not want any changes for their fishermen. I do not expect the Parliament to agree to this in the upcoming negotiations”, said Ulrike Rodust, the Parliament’s rapporteur on the CFP.
In the end, both the European Parliament and the Council will have to agree on the same text. The two institutions will now enter negotiations, so-called trialogues where the Commission also participates, that are scheduled to begin 19 March.
See our article on EU decision making for more information on trialogues .
The Parliament and Council differ on a range of issues, notably on when and how to set catch quotas that can rebuild fish stocks to sustainable levels. Read our article with more information on the European Parliament’s position voted 6 February.