Taking to the water again – back in the office with more fish to fry

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Return of the EU fisheries lawyer: the battle for MSY compliance continues

Return of the EU fisheries lawyer: the battle for MSY compliance continues

I’ve been away for just six months but a lot has been going on. And this brief disconnection from EU fisheries has reminded me just how active and exciting a field – so to speak – they are to work in.

I spent my first days back at work reading details of all the new laws adopted in the last six months. I soon realised, to my disappointment, that the sustainability requirements in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) have not yet been achieved.

Reading the Council’s decision on fishing opportunities for 2016, I discovered that many quotas have been set higher than scientific advice, just as they have in past years. Our messages on the importance of setting quotas in line with the CFP’s sustainability requirements seem, worryingly, to have gone unheard.

Now that the Commission’s Communication on Fishing Opportunities for 2017 has been released, exciting battles are ahead of us. We’ll be pushing to make sure the fishing quotas for 2017 are set according to appropriate scientific advice and in line with the CFP’s sustainability objectives.

The case of the Baltic MAP

When I left, negotiations between the Council and the Members of the European Parliament in charge of fisheries (PECH Committee) on the adoption of the Baltic Sea multiannual plan (MAP) were still open. Why was it taking so long to agree? Because the PECH Committee and the Council fundamentally disagreed on how to make the multiannual plan reflect the sustainability objectives of the CFP.

I was happy to see that finally, in March, after nine months, negotiators reached a compromise agreement on the Baltic Sea MAP. In June, the European Parliament voted to officially accept the agreement. When the Council also approves the agreement, the Baltic Sea MAP will enter into law, opening the way for more multiannual plans for other EU waters. This is a very positive step towards more stable and sustainable management of EU fisheries – as the CFP lays out.

I was positively impressed that some broader environmental requirements, linked to the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, had been included in the Baltic Sea MAP. This means regional fisheries managers will have to make sure all fishers comply with overall EU environmental objectives – as well as CFP fisheries management goals.

Where is MSY in the Baltic Sea MAP?

Unfortunately, the Baltic Sea MAP agreement has not met the sustainability requirements of the CFP. The CFP reform introduced a new and fundamental obligation: fisheries management must aim to restore and maintain fish populations above MSY levels. In its current state, the Baltic Sea MAP might not achieve this.

When a species is being managed for its Maximum Sustainable Yield, it means we are catching as much as we feasibly can without hampering the ability of the species to replenish itself. This requirement must be accurately reflected in all laws that regulate the quantity of fish taken from the sea.

This is why it’s so disappointing that lawmakers introduced to the Baltic Sea MAP the concept of ‘range’ of exploitation – a leeway that actually allows decision-makers to set catch levels that are unsustainable. This does not follow the principles of the CFP, as we pointed out in our briefing. This change blurs the line between catch levels that are sustainable and those that are not.

These provisions must be reviewed before the CFP’s 2020 legal deadline for ending overfishing is reached – they are putting EU fisheries at risk.

Brexit and EU fisheries?

Among these concerns, let’s not forget the UK referendum on leaving the EU, which will present a whole new set of legal issues and challenges in the EU fisheries – as it will in all fields of European law.

A quick stock-take

To cut a long story short, one thing is certain – I am not out of a job yet! Some stepping stones towards sustainability have been laid down but a lot remains to be done. We will all have our hands full with fishing opportunities for 2017, upcoming multiannual plans, the fisheries technical measures proposal and many interesting issues linked to Brexit.

So I am back in the EU fisheries world, ready to swim with an extra ability: the one of juggling between job, nursery and medical appointments, like every working mum. It’s a skill I’m sure I’ll be calling on for all the upcoming fisheries files.

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