Call to Action: Better Implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy through a Differentiated Approach

In Europe, fishing provides an important source of food, social cohesion, livelihoods and economic activity in coastal areas. Fishing thus provides a socio-economic and cultural anchor for communities with few alternative options. Fishing and fishing communities also contribute to our collective cultural maritime heritage, to biocultural diversity and to our knowledge of the seas and natural phenomena.

There are two very different approaches to fishing, based on very different social, economic and environmental logics. Larger scale industrial operations using towed gears, catch tonnes of fish per day, spend several days at sea, provide fish for mass markets, and generate hundreds of thousands or millions of Euros per year. However, these operations cause significant damage to seabed ecosystems and through their use of non-selective gears impact negatively on the reproductive capacity of fish stocks.  Smaller scale, low impact artisanal operations use passive gears, catch tens of kilograms of fish per day, providing a high-quality value-added product to a different market segment, generating on average a few tens of thousands of Euros per year. Their use of selective gears results in significantly fewer discards.

Through targeted support and a favourable regulatory framework, successive Common Fisheries Policies have incentivised larger scale fishing at the expense of the smaller-scale sector. This has created distorted seas across Europe, with most of the fishing opportunities concentrated in few hands, with markets dominated by relatively few high-volume commodity species.

9 years after the adoption of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013 and its implementation in 2014, the intended improvement in sustainability outcomes for the small-scale low impact fleets across the EU are not being delivered; the opportunity to harness their potential to achieve wider social, environmental and economic sustainability goals is being squandered. Measures intended to support small-scale fisheries in Regulations (EU) 1380/2013 (notably Article 17), 1379/2013 (notably Producer Organisations), and 508/2014 (notably under Article 18 concerning the elaboration and implementation of action plans for the development, competitiveness and sustainability of small-scale coastal fishing) are not being applied.

Small-scale coastal fisheries represent 76% of the fishing fleet by vessel numbers, and provide 50% of the jobs at sea. Small-scale low impact fishers fish in the least environmentally damaging ways to provide the greatest benefits to society. Yet they are restricted to landing 5.8% of the catch[1].

Evidence indicates that if small scale fishers were provided with the enabling policy environment intended by the CFP and the political will to implement it[2], small scale low impact fisheries could make all the difference between success and failure in the implementation of the 2014 CFP and the Marine Spatial Planning Framework Directive; achieving the targets set by the Marine Strategy Framework Directive for Good Environmental Status by 2020, meeting the goals of the European Green Deal, associated Biodiversity Strategy (including the Nature Restoration Law); and its international obligations adopted as part of the Rio + 20 (UNCED) process, including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – notably SDG target 14b).

We therefore call on the European Commission and EU Member States to adopt a differentiated approach to fisheries management based on:

  • Inclusive Blue Economy. Place small-scale fisheries at the heart of Blue Economy and protect it from displacement and spatial squeezing by competing or incompatible activities. Do not allow or support any new ocean use that may negatively impact marine ecosystems and the communities that depend on them for their livelihoods; and invest in long-term fisheries management, resource conservation,  ecosystems restoration and innovations introduced by women and men from fishing communities.
  • Fair access to fishery resources. An equitable allocation of fishing opportunities to small-scale low impact fishers, using Article 17 to reallocate fishing rights to smaller scale, environmentally compatible, economically viable and socially responsible fishery activities, rewarding a positive history of compliance and ending the sole use of track records as the tool for allocating fishing opportunities by member states, and putting an end to the privatisation of fishery resource access.
  • Fair access to restored and co-managed fishing grounds. Secure wider inshore fishing areas reserved for small-scale low impact fishing, effectively managed through adaptive local co-management regimes in which small-scale fishers are supported to participate effectively;
  • Reduce environmental impacts of fishing and end discards. Legislate for more diversified, polyvalent, seasonally sound and selective fishing (right gear, right time, right place) to end discards; phase out those high impact gears that have unacceptably high by-catch rates of uneconomic and vulnerable species and of fish below minimum size, and which cause the most damage to seabed, habitats and marine ecology.
  • Fair access to markets and sustainable food systems. Differentiation of small-scale fishery products in the market through traceability, Community Supported Fisheries and direct, short chain, marketing schemes, empowering fishing organisations to become price makers. Establish an enabling policy framework for establishing small-scale Producer Organisations, based on value not on volume.
  • Invest in appropriate infrastructure and climate change resilience. Provide for specific small scale fisher infrastructure investment to improve facilities in landing areas, strengthen short supply chains and food security, and prioritise decarbonisation of the small-scale fleet. Fastrack research and investment into fossil fuel alternatives for the small-scale fleet and associated supply chains; and support fishing communities to mitigate impacts of, and adapt to climate change.
  • Public monies for the common good. Develop a code of practice for financing sustainable small-scale low impact fisheries. Establish a level playing field by ending inequitable subsidies and other incentives which disadvantage the small-scale sector. Public monies should be used for public good not individual gain, to promote fishing better (quality) not more (quantity), through collective projects.
  • Improved EU Governance. Full implementation of the CFP regulation objectives. End ambiguity between the responsibilities of the European Commission and those of member states in the implementation of the CFP to ensure accountability. Full transparency must be adopted in the implementation of the CFP to ensure that public fishery resources are being used for the public good. Ensure coherence between fishery and environmental regulations so they work in harmony to achieve their respective objectives while maintaining biocultural diversity, cultural heritage, equity and social cohesion.
  • Inclusive policies for present and future fishing communities. Recognise and respect the role of women and support fishers of the future through affirmative action initiatives to promote gender equity and inclusion of youth towards equitable generational renewal.
  • Dedicated Research. Specific small scale fisheries research and development to be promoted and resourced through EU and national research programmes, prioritising good cooperation with the SSF sector and the incorporation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge.
  • Align CFP with global frameworks and international obligations. Ensure that the CFP, the CMO and associated fishery and environmental regulations fully comply with the letter and spirit of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small Scale Fisheries and contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals.

[1] Data from the 2022 Annual Economic Report on the EU Fishing Fleet (STECF 22-06), STECF

[2] European Parliament Resolution of 7 June 2022 on the Implementation of Article 17 of the CFP Regulation (2021/2168 INI)