Posts tagged ‘fisheries’

Rio +20 boost for EU fisheries policy reform?

The word “sustainability” can cover a multitude of interpretations, but when it comes to fisheries policy there is no ambiguity:  today’s overfishing means tomorrow’s collapsing fish stocks. Until recently the Common Fisheries Policy has been a classic case of unsustainability, a stand-off between short term political pressures on the one hand and scientific evidence warning of the destruction of Europe’s fishery resources on the other. But at least change is in the air.  Rio +20 may prove a real catalyst for reform.

NGOs have condemned the outcome of the Rio meeting for its lack of specific commitments, but  I would subscribe to the view of businessGreen that the conference conclusions could have a far-reaching impact on the way that governments and business approach the whole sustainability question. On fisheries the commitments are substantial.

Of course words must now be translated into action, but there are signs of change in Europe.   The EU fisheries council earlier this month set a course for a more sustainable fisheries policy. When the European Parliament discusses fisheries reform in September 2012, using the limited extra powers granted by the Lisbon Treaty, MEPs can be expected to maintain pressure on the Council for an enlightened policy to take effect from 2013. Rio will be an important incentive for change.

The June 12 Fisheries Council commitments are still pretty vague. They called for maximum sustainable yields for different stocks to be set “by 2015 where possible” and “by 2020 at the latest”. Multiannual plans for fisheries management would be used to manage specific stocks – bearing in mind that Lisbon introduced shared national-EU competence for such management. And the banning of discards, whereby fish caught beyond the quota limits are thrown back dead into the sea, would (eventually) be introduced.

According to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a pioneer campaigner who has gathered nearly a million signatures against discards, about half of the fish caught in the North Sea is currently dumped at sea because it fails to meet by-catch rules or exceeds quota.  His campaign has been remarkably effective in reinforcing the Commission’s ambitions for change in fisheries policy.

The language used in the Rio declaration (paragraphs 158-177) combines environmental and economic measures to protect oceans and seas. On fisheries it commits the parties “to urgently develop and implement science-based management plans, including by reducing or suspending fishing catch and effort commensurate with the status of the stock” and to “further commit to enhance action to manage by-catch, discards, and other adverse ecosystem impacts from fisheries including by eliminating destructive fishing practices”.

Fisheries policy will now take on a different aspect as accession negotiations with Iceland move into their most difficult phase. Ten of 18 chapters have now been negotiated, fisheries still remain.  The prospect of a reformed CFP will be key for Iceland, which will surely settle for nothing less than a firm commitment to change. “A fishing nation like Iceland is something that the European Union hasn’t encountered before,” says Iceland foreign minister Ossur Skarphethinsson – a claim which the Norway might dispute. Indeed, fisheries and energy were the two issues which led the Norwegians to reject entry in the early ‘70s.

There are other issues where Iceland will no doubt want assurances. For example, a situation where quotas allocated to one EU country can be bought up by operators from elsewhere, as where Spanish vessels have registered in British ports and so qualified for British quota allocations, is of course consistent with freedom of establishment, but does little to respect an initial purpose of quotas, ensuring fishing opportunity to locally based fishermen.  A greater emphasis on regional management may be the way ahead here.

Michael

June 24, 2012 at 9:00 pm 1 comment

Iceland’s path to EU membership may be a rocky one

Coat of arms of Iceland
Image via Wikipedia

I see that the EU Council of Ministers has asked the European Commission to deliver an opinion on Iceland’s application to join the EU, just 10 days after Reykjavik submitted its formal request for membership. The Swedish presidency wants the report by the end of the year, and foreign minister Carl Bildt has implied that Iceland’s status as an EEA country could speed the process of the application, in contrast to the slow progress for the Balkan applicants.

The Icelanders no doubt remain shell-shocked by the collapse of their banking system and the consequent halving in the value of the krona, and crave the stability of the eurozone, but it strikes me that the path to membership may be far from smooth. At the end of the process – say in 2011 – lurks a referendum: by then the mood of the country may have changed.

Fisheries could be a major stumbling block. Seafood accounts for almost half of Iceland’s exports and 10 per cent of its gross domestic product, which is quite something when another chunk of the country’s economy – the banking system – has disintegrated. The cod wars of the 1970s, when Iceland extended its territorial limits to 200 miles and the Royal Navy sent frigates to protect British fishing vessels, showed the depth of national feeling on this issue.

Even now international relations on fisheries policy remain poor. I gather for instance that Iceland has been excluded from negotiations on the management of mackerel stocks in the North Atlantic and has therefore opted out of catch allocations. The country is very concerned to rebuild cod stocks, which is a key economic asset. Stocks may be recovering but there will be intense opposition to surrendering quota to EU fishermen under the common fisheries policy. Just to add to the sensitivities, Iceland still has a whaling industry.

At least the review of the EU common fisheries policy is timely, with signs that ministers have accepted the need for fundamental change (just as well, as many fish stocks in European waters are on the point of collapse – and see Sarkozy’s change of heart). However, the fisheries chapter in the Commission’s Iceland report will be one of the most difficult to compose. Could it be the catalyst for the creation of a new fisheries policy, or will it hark back to the disastrous EU policy which has been pursued since 1973?

Becoming part of the eurozone is the big driver for Iceland, but there could be difficult issues here as well, given the level of Iceland’s public debt (about 100 per cent of gdp). For Iceland to qualify for eurozone membership could be an even greater challenge than is faced by the Baltic states and Hungary.

The vote in the Althing to apply for membership was a close run thing – 33 in favour, 28 against – and it would certainly be wrong to underestimate the negotiating difficulties which lie ahead. If the Irish vote “no” on Lisbon then the prospects for any enlargement would be gloomier still.

Meanwhile Britain’s Conservative shadow foreign secretary William Hague continues to inveigh against Lisbon. But whatever you think of his views, he is a consummate speaker. You may like to savour his recent performance in the House of Commons on the possibility of Tony Blair becoming president of the European Council under a ratified Lisbon Treaty. No wonder Gordon Brown needs a holiday!

Michael Berendt

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July 28, 2009 at 10:00 am Leave a comment


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