Fisheries laws need time to perform, not reform
Europe’s strong fisheries laws exist to bring us closer to sustainable fishing. They rely on a system which checks they are being put into practice in each country. That’s why we have the Control Regulation, designed to make sure the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is adhered to across the EU and which sets up a system for control and enforcement by countries at national level.
The European Commission will soon take a decision on the revision of this control system under a process known as REFIT. ClientEarth has urged the Commission to take into consideration the fact that a revision could end up weakening this regulation.
What would a REFIT mean?
The REFIT process is an evaluation carried out by the European Commission to assess whether a piece of legislation is fit for purpose.
The Control Regulation for the Common Fisheries Policy is at risk of being weakened by a REFIT procedure that could see the policy being revised before it has been in place long enough to judge what needs changing.
Some provisions of the Control Regulation only entered into force in 2014, which makes it hard to judge how fit for purpose it really is. For this reason, ClientEarth wrote to the European Commission urging them to focus on implementation, not revision, of this essential regulation.
What has the Control Regulation already changed?
The first control rules were introduced at EU level in 1993. Over the following years, more and more control provisions were integrated into various pieces of EU fisheries law, and the system became fragmented and inefficient. That was the reason dramatic changes were needed: the policy was considered at the time to be a complete failure, which could have, in the end, compromised the implementation of the entire CFP.
It was through the adoption in 2009 of the Control Regulation that new requirements were introduced, which concerned both the fishermen and the national authorities of EU Member States.
It took time, effort and money for fishers and national authorities to adapt their old ways to the new rules. But the European Commission is currently evaluating the Control Regulation which means that before the end of the year, they could propose this law is reopened and revised.
What’s best – revision, or better implementation?
We concede that the Control Regulation isn’t perfect. Like every piece of European legislation, it is the outcome of a lengthy negotiation and bargaining process and compromises were made. For example, following a campaign from sea anglers, recreational fisheries were, for the most part, excluded from the scope of the Regulation. Additionally, small-scale fishers do not have to implement some of the most stringent control rules, like the obligation to record their catches electronically. They were allowed to stick with the old, paper-based logbook system.
The gaps and loopholes in this legislation might seem to make a case for reopening the Control Regulation and reinforcing its weakest provisions – and yes, the moment will come – but not now.
The focus of the years ahead should be on implementation, not on revision. Some of the new control rules have only applied for two years, making it difficult to judge their effectiveness, or whether any revisions are actually needed. Member States and industry, who are still investing time and effort in the implementation of the new rules, should be supported in their actions, instead of being expected to cope with another change to the system.
An additional concern is that the REFIT process is not renowned for being environmentally-friendly. It is possible that, before the end of the year, the European Commission will propose new and less strict rules about how fisheries laws are implemented and how that’s monitored – and it’s possible the European Parliament will support this move. If this happens, the progress Member States and fishers have made to implement this policy properly will be lost. The success of the CFP would again be jeopardised.
Our message to the Commission
For all these reasons, ClientEarth’s key message to the European Commission was to focus on implementation and not on revision. We want to make sure all those involved have the means to successfully implement this important law. We will continue to emphasise this logic until the Commission’s verdict is announced in September.