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Common Fisheries Policy

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is the EU legislative tool for managing European fisheries.

The main premise of the CFP is that EU fishing grounds are a common resource open to all Member States. In order to protect smaller fishing vessels, areas around the coastline are restricted to Member State vessels only.

The management of fisheries under the CFP is largely achieved through the allocation of Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas for each stock. Initially, this was to divide what was thought to be a plentiful resource between Member States, but with the decline in abundance of many fish
stocks, this is now used as a management measure to try to maintain fishing at an appropriate level.

The changing conditions of European fisheries indicate that the original Common Fisheries Policy has been in need of reform: decline in stocks, increase in size and power of vessels, and other factorssuch as climate change are all having an impact on fisheries and demand an adaptive management approach. One such reform of the CFP took place in 2002 and another is currently underway and due for completion in 2012.

The 2002 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy demonstrated a broadening in perspective to allow an ecosystem-based approach. Fisheries management needed to achieve sustainability in three key objectives: environmental, social and economic. The precautionary principle was also introduced to fisheries management, whereby under the possibility of a serious threat, the lack of scientific information should not be used as an excuse for inaction.

The 2002 reform also moved towards more long-term planning with multi-annual management plans. Increased stakeholder involvement in decision-making was introduced by setting up Regional Advisory Councils, with representatives from fisheries, producer organisations, environmental organisations and other interests.

Despite the improvements in the CFP, it is widely held that EU fisheries management remains outdated, short-sighted, politically driven and ineffective. Of the managed stocks in EU waters, 88% are fished beyond a sustainable level and the profitability of the industry is compromised. There are problems of overcapacity in the fleet, discards and bycatch continue to decrease stocks, and quotas continue to be set above scientific recommendations.

The CFP is in need of further reform to meet the demands of the current situation and ensure a sustainable fishing industry for generations to come. The Commission produced a Green Paper on the reform of the CFP in 2009 and highlighted the following priorities:

  • Putting an end to fleet overcapacity by developing mechanisms capable of adapting fleet quantity to available resources.
  • Refocusing the CFP’s main objective on maintaining healthy, sustainable and exploitable stocks.
  • Adapting the orientation of fisheries governance from today’s centralised control by the Council of Fisheries Ministers, which adopts all decisions, towards regionalised (but not nationalised) implementation of the principles laid down at Community level.
  • Involving the sector further in resource management and implementation of the CFP, for example by moving towards results-based management.
  • Developing a culture of compliance with rules by obliging the sector and the Member States to apply CFP measures more effectively. Developing a simpler, less costly policy with greater proximity in decision-making.

The reform of the CFP creates an opportunity to modernise fisheries management and integrate it within wider marine management in European waters. The future of the fishing industry depends on a healthy marine environment and this should be a common goal, best delivered through an
ecosystem approach.

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