Dispute in Parliament creates confusion over discard ban

Members of the European Parliament are divided on how to get the discard ban to start working properly next year. A vote in the fisheries committee 3 December will be decisive in how smoothly the new common fisheries policy is implemented.

One of the core principles of the new common fisheries policy (CFP), agreed last year, is a ban on discarding fish at sea. This discard ban will be gradually introduced in EU waters between 2015 and 2019, starting next year with the Baltic Sea and fish like herring and mackerel in other waters.

But the discard ban may still run into legal bumps in the road.

Legal adjustment
The European Commission has proposed to adjust eight EU fisheries laws that are not yet adapted to the discard ban, in order to remove legal contradictions and make sure that it is legally clear how fishermen and authorities should handle catches when the discard ban comes into place.

One camp of Members of the European Parliament (notably greens, some socialist, some liberal and italian eurosceptic MEPs) have signalled they want to follow the Commission’s lead and get this legal adjustment, called the ”omnibus”, in place as soon as possible.

Other MEPs (notably conservatives and some socialists and some liberals) want to do a number of changes. These MEPs have proposed that this legal adjustment exercise should be done every year as the discard ban gradually enters into force.

”Draw lessons from 2015”
The MEP in charge of this dossier, Alain Cadec (EPP, France), wrote on his blog: ”2015 will be a test year for the discard ban and we should draw lessons from this when it comes to applying the rules for other fisheries.”

His opponents, who want to get the whole legal exercise done now, claim that Cadec’s amendments would create an uneven playing field for fishermen in the EU. They point to the fact that there will be plenty of time to learn and adapt. The discard ban can be fine-tuned through the management plans and discards plans that will be adopted for each region and each fishery. Six discard plans are already prepared and will be discussed by the fisheries committee this week, among them the plans for South Western waters, North Western waters and the Baltic Sea.

”Zombie politicians reappear”
MEPs from several political groups have also proposed a number of derogations that critics say would undermine the discard ban, for example by making it more difficult to control how much fish is caught.

”The proposed changes are disastrous for European fisheries. They undermine the landing obligation, which is the highlight of this reform,” ClientEarth lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said.

”A bit like a bad horror movie, the same zombie politicians keep reappearing and trying to tear the guts out of the new laws,” discard ban campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall wrote on his blog.

Why so late?
After the committee vote on Wednesday, the Parliament and Council are expected to start negotiating to conclude a deal on the ”omnibus” for the discard ban in December.

The clock is ticking, because the first discard bans will enter into force 1 January 2015 and fishermen and fishing authorities need legal clarity.

This last-minute haggling takes place even though it has been clear for one and a half years that the discard ban will start being implemented in 2015. The Commission presented its legislative proposal on the ”omnibus” 17 December 2013. Council adopted its position in June, without any substantial changes to the Commission’s proposal.

But the Parliament has dragged its feet.

Gabirel Mato, who was chair of the fisheries committee, became rapporteur for the file in January 2014, after his group EPP requested a vote in Committee to override the rules that would have given the file to socialist Ulrike Rodust. Alain Cadec overtook the rapporteurship when he became committee chair after the election.

The Parliament could have been ready much earlier if it were not for the fact that EPP deliberately delayed the process, parliament sources say.

”Last year’s reform of the common fisheries policy is the best thing that has happened to the European fishing sector for many years. Through underhand dealings, the EPP members of the fisheries committee are now trying to pick the fisheries reform apart by delaying the introduction of the discard ban that is backed by a large majority in the European Parliament,” said Nils Torvalds, liberal MEP and vice-chair of the fisheries committee during the last legislature.

Trilogue negotiations between the Parliament negotiators and the Italian Council presidency are scheduled to take place 10 December.

Documents:
Commission proposal
Easy Explanation of the Commission proposal (presentation from a seminar)
Cadec draft report
Amendments tabled in committee
Voting list including compromise amendments
Document gateway at Legislative Observatory

Follow the live streaming of the vote in the fisheries committee at 15:00 on 3 December 2014 on the committee website

Axel Naver

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