By December 31, 2022, the Commission is required to report to the Parliament and the Council on the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), writes Brian O’Riordan, executive secretary of LIFE Platform.
This is a legal requirement arising from the need to review the derogation to the principle of equal access. Are fisheries at a crossroads?
This derogation is embodied in the rules that restrict access in the 12-mile zones of Member States to ‘traditional’ fishing activities; it provides a once-in-a-decade opportunity to review the CFP, take stock and make recommendations.
Unlike in 1992, 2002 and 2012 however, no actual reform is envisaged for 2022. With notable exceptions (the Mediterranean, Baltic Sea, North Sea cod), there are positive signs as regards the status of stocks and the status of the fish economy. Thanks to higher fish prices, lower fuel costs and recovering stocks, the European fishing sector is making record profits overall.
The Commission report will coincide with the entry into force of the new European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF). The appearance of the ‘aquaculture’ for the first time in the title of the new regulation is a sign of a shifting policy focus away from fisheries as the main source of marine food production to aquaculture.
A central element of the EMFAF is the Blue Economy, which includes non-food sectors such as ocean energy, seabed mining, marine biotechnology and coastal tourism. These sectors will compete for both space and resources with the fisheries sector, and it is likely that energy generating installations will be established in many fishing areas.
There is a risk that blue economy, including aquaculture development will be at the expense of fisheries development.
Productivity to conservation
With the shifting focus of fisheries policy away from productivity increases towards conservation and environmental protection, the social dimension of fisheries has been neglected. Social issues will need to be given greater attention in the coming period if the fishing sector is to be sustained.
In general, working conditions have fallen behind compared to other sectors. The adoption and entry into force of the ILO Work in Fishing Convention (C.188) should foster improvements in at-sea working conditions on larger vessels.
To what extent such improvements can be supported through the EMFAF remains a contentious issue however, as such improvements may also contribute to increased fishing capacity of the fleet.
But the ILO C.188 will not resolve the issue of generational renewal, and the problem of low recruitment of new entrants into the fishing profession. Many fleet segments have become reliant on migrant workers, including from Asia, Africa and Latin America.
Simply put, the fisheries sector is not an attractive prospect for the younger generation in today’s world, and this needs to change.
Women in fisheries
Another area of neglect has been the important role that women play in sustaining the fisheries sector. Women are found throughout the value chain, with a predominance in the shore-based processing sector.
Their contribution however to small-scale family businesses – often in the form of unpaid labour – has passed under the CFP radar.
Employment statistics are often blind to gender differences in the fisheries sector, largely due to women’s work being considered as informal and unpaid (for example as shellfish gatherers, or as ‘helpers’ and co-workers in their family businesses). This means that the work of women often goes unrecognised, disrespected and poorly rewarded.
At the end of February this year, just ahead of the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights (March 8th) the Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) and the Aktea launched an initiative to draw attention to this, and to lobby for space in the 2022 review of the CFP to be given to the role women in fisheries sector.
The European Commissioner for the Environment, Ocean and Fisheries sent a video address to the meeting which gathered 40 women from 9 EU Member States.
Neglect of inshore fishers
Another important area of neglect is the small-scale fishing sector (vessels under 12 metres deploying non-towed gear). Although this represents by far the largest fleet segment, it has experienced the sharpest decline in recent years, and shows a relatively poor economic performance.
LIFE was launched on the eve of the reformed 2014 CFP to rectify these historic wrongs suffered by the small-scale fleet, and to open the eyes of policymakers to the potential of small-scale low impact fishery activities to achieve the wider social, environmental and economic sustainability goals.
Six years on however, it is clear that the 2014 CFP is not working for small-scale fisheries. The sector has not benefited from the same rights of access to resources (allocation of quotas), access to markets (support to set up Producer Organisations) and wider opportunities (access to finance, to information, to training and to the decision-making processes that affect them) as larger scale fleets.
Unlike larger-scale companies, small-scale fishing companies do not generate sufficient revenues to employ dedicated lobbyists. To attend meetings where decisions are taken, small scale fishers must sacrifice their daily earnings with no possibility for compensation.
To draw attention to these failings, LIFE wrote to the Members of the Pech Committee of the European Parliament, who responded by organising an exchange of views in early December with the European Commission.
One of the main conclusions was that Article 17 of the CFP is not fit for purpose. This requires that Member States use ‘transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature’ to allocate the fishing opportunities assigned to them.
If fishing is to survive, the CFP needs to pay greater attention to the social dimension, and to place less emphasis on technological development and productivity.