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EC evaluation of EU Common Fisheries Policy and Fishing Opportunities for 2021

17 June 2020
by eub2 -- last modified 17 June 2020

The Commission has published its yearly Communication on the progress of management of fish stocks in the EU, which is based on data from 2018.


Why is the Commission reporting on the state of play on the implementation of the CFP and on the basis of which indicators is the assessment made?

We are now in the seventh year of the implementation of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy. To satisfy the legal reporting obligation set out in Regulation 1380/2013, and to assess the progress made towards the achievement of its main objective, notably sustainability, the Commission adopts this Communication every year. The Communication reports on this by looking at:

  • progress made in the exploitation and state of the stocks;
  • the balance between the capacity of the EU fleet and the available fishing opportunities;
  • the socio-economic performance of the EU fleet; and
  • the implementation of the landing obligation.

Ensuring that the exploitation of living marine biological resources restores and maintains populations of harvested species above levels that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), is the key objective of the CFP. This also contributes to achieving good environmental status in European seas in 2020.

What is the state of play on the economic performance of the EU fleet?

In 2018, the economic performance of the EU fleet continued to be very good with a net profit of around €1.4 billion and an average net profit margin of 18%.. This level of profitability represents a great improvement, given that the EU fleet was only marginally profitable in 2008. Continued improvements in performance were mainly the result of some important stocks improving, average fish prices being high (more value for fewer fish landed) and fuel prices remaining low.

While similar economic performance is expected to be confirmed for 2019, the projections for 2020 remain highly uncertain due to the impact of the coronavirus health crisis. In addition, significant differences across the EU fishing regions persist, with the Baltic, the Mediterranean and the Black Seas having lower profitability levels. A positive economic trend was observed for a number of fleets targeting sustainably exploited stocks (such as anglerfish and megrim in the Irish Sea; sole in the western English Channel and megrim in the North Sea), which tended to improve their profitability and salaries. Conversely, fleets targeting overexploited stocks (eastern Baltic cod, Celtic Sea cod) tended to register a poorer economic performance.

How was the EU fleet affected by the coronavirus pandemic?

The projections for the economic performance of the EU fleet in 2020 remain highly uncertain due to the combined effects of the decline in demand and the disruption of supply chains resulting from the coronavirus health crisis. Early indications suggest that the fishery sector was initially hit hard by disruption to the market caused by the pandemic, as demand saw a sudden decline. The decline in demand, and subsequent drop in first sale prices, led many vessels to cease their activity. The partial closure of hospitality (restaurants, etc.) sector affected fleet segments targeting high-value species and small-scale coastal fisheries. Furthermore, fishing fleets depending on export markets were highly impacted. In addition to the problems of demand, sanitary measures hampered some fisheries.

Since mid-April, the situation seems to have been improving both for the catching and fish processing sector. Very low fuel prices in 2020 may help to ease EU fleets' operating costs.

To tackle this unprecedented situation, the Commission proposed a range of urgent relief measures, which the EU's legislators approved. These measures will help to protect thousands of jobs in the EU's coastal regions and maintain food security. They extend the scope of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to allow for temporary cessation of activities, compensation for economic losses caused by the public health crisis, a more flexible allocation of financial resources within the operational programme of each Member State and a simplified procedure for amending operational programmes to introduce the new measures quickly. A new temporary framework for State aid enables Member States to provide relief in the form of State aid to economic operators active in the fisheries sector and hit by the crisis.

What are fishing opportunities? How are they set?

Each year the Commission tables the so-called Total Allowable Catches (TACs) to be applied the following year to most commercial stocks in EU waters except the Mediterranean Sea. The proposed amounts are based on biological advice and economic analysis from independent bodies. Later in the year, the Council composed of the Fisheries Ministers of each Member State, makes a final decision on these TACs. Once fixed, the amounts are divided up among Member States according to pre-agreed shares, the so-called quotas. Member States manage the national quotas and allocate them among the fishing industry, as a right to fish and land a certain amount of fish within the calendar year.

With regard to the Mediterranean, according to the multi-annual plan for the Western Mediterranean, for 2021 the Council shall set further effort reduction targets based on scientific advice, against the background of the MAP's objective of achieving Fmsy by 2025 at the latest.

This is how fishing opportunities are set in EU waters. For fishing opportunities agreed under the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs), the Commission negotiates conservation and management issues, including fishing opportunities, for the species managed under the authority of these organisations. The measures adopted by RFMOs and in particular any fishing opportunities for the EU, are incorporated in the Fishing Opportunities Regulations. The timeline for this incorporation follows the calendar of the meetings of these organisations.

Where does the scientific advice come from?

Fishers and national administrations provide data on their catches and fishing activity, which are used by fisheries scientists who then assess the state of the stocks. The scientists also use samples from commercial landings and from discards, and they use research vessels to sample the amounts of fish in the sea in different sites and at different times of year, independently from the fishing activity. They determine the state of the stock and then calculate how much should be fished the following year to ensure sustainability. This work is done through the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), an independent body that provides the Commission with the scientific advice. In some cases, such as the Mediterranean Sea basin, other advisory bodies, such as the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), are consulted.

At international level, the process is similar: data are used by the RFMOs' scientific bodies to provide the necessary scientific advice.

What is the basis for the fishing opportunities?

The EU's CFP sets the objective of reaching maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020 at the latest. MSY translates into delivery of the highest possible long-term catches. At the same time, it contributes to the sustainable conservation of the stocks and allows for maximisation of fish supply from fishing. The fishing opportunities are set with a view to ensuring MSY.

As of January 2019, fishermen are not permitted to throw the fish back to the sea once it has been caught. The landing obligation applies to all catches of regulated species, unless an exemption has been agreed in line with the rules in place. Regulated species are those that fall under catch limits or, in the Mediterranean, species which are subject to minimum sizes. Undersized fish cannot be marketed for direct human consumption purposes whilst prohibited species (e.g. basking shark) cannot be retained on board and must be returned to the sea. The discarding of prohibited species should be recorded in the logbook and forms an important part of the science base for the monitoring of these species.This change (i.e. the requirement to land all fish) has implications for the levels of relevant fishing opportunities, which can be adjusted according to biological advice to take into account that previously discarded fish is now landed.

Is the policy working?

In the Northeast Atlantic area (including the North and Baltic Seas), the move towards sustainability is both widespread and visible. While in the early 2000s most stocks were overfished, overall stocks are now, on average, fished sustainably. This is tangible and important progress towards achieving the objectives of the CFP.

In the Mediterranean and the Black Seas most stocks are still overfished. This is largely due to the multispecies nature of fisheries, the fact that several fish stocks are shared with third countries and the low number of fish stocks assessed yearly by scientific bodies. Further efforts are required, in particular in the context of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) Strategy, in line with the 2017 MedFish4Ever and the 2018 Sofia Ministerial Declarations. For its part, the Commission will continue to work closely with all the stakeholders for the prompt implementation of the Western Mediterranean Multiannual plan.

What measures does the Commission take regarding the situation in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea?

The EU has continued working, including with its international partners, on improving the situation of stocks in the Mediterranean and Black Seas.

At EU level, 2020 is the first year of full implementation of the MAP for demersal stocks in the Western Mediterranean with the first effort reduction and the setting of fisheries closures for the protection of juveniles. This year will also be the second year that a specific fishing opportunities regulation for the Mediterranean and the Black Seas will be adopted, based on this first MAP for the Mediterranean.

At international level, considering the shared nature of most fish stocks, the EU has continued to promote multilateral cooperation in the competent RFMOs, including at the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT). With the adoption of the MedFish4Ever (March 2017) and the Sofia (June 2018) Declarations, there is a detailed work plan to rebuild Mediterranean fish stocks, in close collaboration with the Barcelona Convention, and Black Sea fish stocks, to protect the region's ecological and economic wealth and boost the sustainable development of aquaculture over the next 10 years. This is complemented by regional plans of action against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing (2017) and for sustainable small-scale fisheries (2018).

In 2019, the GFCM adopted a record 15 measures, proposed by the EU, some of them ground-breaking, e.g. the multi-annual plan for demersal stocks in the Adriatic. 2020 will be the first year of its implementation, with a first effort at reduction of 12% over 2020-2021, establishment of closures, a minimum conservation size and a pilot inspection scheme. Additional progress in 2020 will need to be decided in light of the disruption brought about by the coronavirus crisis. One milestone to consolidate the momentum of reforming fisheries governance in the Mediterranean will be the adoption of the next five-year GFCM strategy.

In November 2019 the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) adopted, thanks to EU efforts, a one-year interim measure to end overfishing of bigeye tuna in the Atlantic and managed to overhaul the management of fishing activities on fishing aggregating devices (FADs) to reduce juvenile mortality for bigeye and yellowfin tuna. For the first time, based on EU proposals, ICCAT adopted a quota for blue sharks. This important decision is the first of its kind for sharks in ICCAT and will provide a platform for the efficient long-term management of sharks

How does de-centralisation of fisheries management work?

The CFP has shifted to more de-centralised governance on the basis of multiannual plans at sea basin level and delegated acts adopted through regionalisation. Regionalisation is an important element of the reformed CFP (Article 18). It gives Member States the possibility to cooperate on a regional basis and agree on Joint Recommendations for achieving the objectives of environmental legislation or for shaping specific discard plans. More recently, regionalisation is also available to agree on regional technical measures that tell fishermen and women where, when and how they can fish. The Advisory Councils (ACs), stakeholder organisations composed of representatives from the industry and from other interest groups, play a central role in regionalisation, as Member States must consult the ACs on the Joint Recommendations. More generally, the ACs are tasked with providing the Commission and Member States with recommendations and information on fisheries management and the socioeconomic and conservation aspects of fisheries and aquaculture.

What is the state of play of the implementation of the landing obligation?

When it comes to the landing obligation, now in the second year of its full application, compliance remains weak. The Commission's audits and the initiatives of the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) indicate a general lack of compliance. Part of the solution must come from new and innovative control tools. This is taken on-board in the Commission's proposal for a revised Fisheries Control System – currently negotiated with the co-legislators.

The European Union has taken actions to facilitate the implementation of the landing obligation. Some examples include the adoption of temporary discard plans and multiannual plans and the introduction of by-catch quotas linked with remedial measures to address certain choke situations. The Commission encourages Member States to improve the use the funds available to improve selectivity to reduce unwanted catches.

Source: European Commission