To meet its legal obligations to report on the implementation of the CFP (and the CMO) 10 years after its revision in 2013, and in line with the EU Green Deal and the Biodiversity Strategy requirements, the Commission launched on February 21st 2023 several Communications designed to open the way for improving the sustainability and resilience of the EU’s fisheries and aquaculture sector. The package of measures, described as a “Pact for Fisheries and Oceans” by the Commissioner for Oceans, Environment and Fisheries, included four elements: A Communication on the Energy Transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture sector; an Action Plan to protect and restore marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries; a Communication on the common fisheries policy today and tomorrow and a Report on the Common Market Organisation for fishery and aquaculture products
LIFE welcomes this “Pact for Fisheries and Oceans” as a starting point on a journey towards “fisheries of the future”, that will be resilient, carbon neutral, and environmentally and socio-economically sustainable. The fisheries of the future, fishing livelihoods and the way we produce food from the sea are likely to be quite different to those of today, and they will have to find their place in the rapidly emerging Blue Economy. This will require overcoming some significant challenges.
Below we present LIFE’s response to the Pact for Fisheries and Oceans, following extensive internal discussions.
Response to the Communication on the Energy transition of the EU Fisheries and Aquaculture sector
Global warming and associated climate change, described as the defining crisis of our time, is increasingly affecting our society as a whole and, in a very important way, affecting our seas, fisheries and our fishing sector. At the same time, our current needs for generating high amounts of energy and the high dependence on fossil fuels are important causes behind most of the current geopolitical conflicts. The war in Ukraine has highlighted the need for making this energy transition without further delay, bringing even more urgency to the process to make “EU climate neutral by 2050”. This is a reality we cannot deny and the sooner we face it and start looking for solutions the better, taking up our own responsibilities as individuals, associations and wider society. We need to take action and start a transition, not only for the benefit of the future generations but for the benefit of the current ones as they also deserve to have a better present. Maintaining the status quo is not an option. However, as yet there are no off the shelf solutions, and given the high dependence of the fisheries sector on fossil fuels, transition to a CO2 emission free fisheries sector must be a gradual process of evolution and adaptation.
- Fishing: a Low Carbon Food System, but…
It must be noted that fishing uses energy only to extract what nature has already produced. Therefore, compared to livestock production or aquaculture, fishing is able to put animal protein on our plates with a relatively low carbon footprint. But that is only one side of the coin. Fishing is currently an energy intensive extractive industry and fishing can impact the food chain and marine biodiversity, reduce the resilience of marine ecosystems, distort predator-prey relations, and disrupt carbon sequestration, issues that need to be addressed in this transition.
The EU has committed to become climate neutral by 2050. Achieving this ambitious target, will require the political will of the Member States to follow the lead set by the EC. Becoming an emissions free sector must involve a genuine reduction of emissions and transition to alternative sources of energy, rather than offsetting carbon emissions through questionable projects. For LIFE, a binding obligation to reduce emissions towards becoming climate neutral would be more meaningful.
- Fishing for direct human consumption should be prioritised over industrial reduction
As a first step in the process, LIFE believes there is a need to rethink the current EU fisheries model and to promote a general reduction of the use of energy. That means implementing a strategy that shifts us away from carbon intensive, high volume, high impact fishing to low carbon, low impact fishing. Meeting the objectives of both Action Plan and Energy Transition will require the phasing out of some kinds of fishing operations whilst giving priority to those fishery activities that have the least environmental impact and greatest socio-economic benefits. In this sense, fishing for direct human consumption should be given priority over reduction fisheries for fishmeal and oil, given the high energy requirements and inefficient energy use of the latter.
- Energy transition must involve the entire food system
Energy transition must also involve a reduction in the use of energy all along the fisheries value chain, and within the entire food system, from fishing to the final consumer. This would include reducing fossil fuel use for cold chain, processing, and transportation, as well as the use of non-biodegradable materials (plastics) in both fishing equipment and in post harvest packaging. The post harvest intercontinental and transcontinental transport of fish for processing and marketing must also be carefully scrutinised.
- Local Food Systems: Part of the Solution
In particular, the conversion of whole fish into dried fishmeal and oil, and the subsequent conversion of fishmeal and oil into animal protein incurs a huge carbon footprint and is a highly inefficient use of energy. Such fisheries can have a highly perverse impact on fish stocks and the wider marine food web, notably in the Baltic Sea where over 90% of the landed fish biomass is destined for industrial reduction. Part of the solution lies in developing, protecting and strengthening local food systems, through transparent, short value chains and direct marketing arrangements, as through “community supported fisheries”. This will also require promoting a new culture of seafood production and consumption, catching less to earn more, eating less animal, more plant-based protein, but of a higher quality and added value. This will require a greater engagement by consumers in this transition, taking informed decisions about their local producers and the products available on the market.
On the other hand, LIFE is concerned a standardised approach to energy transition may lead to an unlevel playing field. Factors such as the cost and availability of alternative energy and technological alternatives (electric engines, batteries) may make the energy transition more economically and technologically difficult for some fleet segments than others. The specific characteristics of some vessels, particularly small-scale vessels may make it less viable for them to transition to alternative technologies with low carbon emissions. It is important that the transition is fair, and that there is a level playing field across the different fleet segments and that good practice is rewarded.
- Total Emissions versus Energy Efficiency
In this regard, establishing a fit-for purpose emissions accounting system is crucial. High volume extractive activities may show greater efficiency in terms of volume of emissions produced compared to volume of fish extracted, however, this would mask their overall high contribution to global emissions. We need to avoid accounting systems that could be misleading and may result in perverse outcomes, and inequitable treatment across fleet segments with potentially severe ecological and socio-economic consequences. Rather, LIFE calls for an emissions accounting system that covers the entire food system, from sea to plate. It should take into account both the overall fossil fuel consumption and the emissions output, avoiding efficiency measurements based on, for example, comparisons of litres of fuel used to kgs of fish caught.
On the other hand it is also important to look at how the marine environment stores carbon, to apply measures that improve carbon storage mechanisms and boost carbon storage, and to establish systems that account for it. Fish stocks play an important role in carbon sequestration and storage in marine food webs. By fishing down the food chain, depleting biodiversity and weakening trophic structures, fishing can adversely affect carbon storage and sequestration. Therefore, Energy transition also needs to complement the Marine Action Plan and CFP implementation towards ending overfishing, rebuilding fish stocks, and reducing the impact of intensive fishing practices. By promoting, protecting and incentivising small-scale low impact fisheries and reducing large scale high impact fishing, carbon storage could be increased and emissions decreased. By using Article 17, those productive systems that impact the least on the potential of marine life to halt and reverse global warming could be rewarded with preferential access to resources.
- Small Scale Fisheries: Part of the Solution
The small-scale fishing sector must be seen as part of the solution; they have an important role to play in achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Already, small-scale fishers are taking action to reduce their fossil fuel dependence and carbon emissions, for example by taking voluntary measures to improve energy efficiency (by reducing the time at sea, distance to the fishing grounds or by establishing more direct and local markets).There are also examples of projects to use alternative sources of energy. These include a prototype electric boat using organic pots made out of willow in the UK, and an engineering project to develop a small-scale fishing electric boat prototype in Catalunya. The latter awaits research funding.
However, the challenges facing the small-scale fishery sector to achieve this transition are daunting, and should not be underestimated:
The “Pact for Fisheries and Oceans” comes at a time of great uncertainty in the fisheries sector, the small-scale fleet segment in particular. A general lack of availability of fish on the inshore fishing grounds, the prospects of spatial squeezing from competing blue economy sectors, marginal profitability, and other considerations mean that fishers are not motivated to make such a transition. Trust in the EU and Member States authorities has also been eroded (as noted later, in section 3 of this response on the implementation of the CFP). “Nobody will think about this transition because of the inaction of EU and Member States to save small-scale fisheries businesses up to now”, mentioned one of our members. SSF wants to see real changes in the policies to restore fish stocks, to provide them with improved access to resources and markets, and for the adoption of a differentiated approach to small-scale and large-scale fisheries. They need to be confident that they will have better prospects in the future, otherwise there will not be significant buy-in to make the energy transition.
No off the shelf technologies to make the energy transition
Whilst higher (fossil) fuel prices could be a driver for change to alternative energy sources, there is no assurance that alternative energy sources could become as widely available as, or cheaper than fossil fuels. What is more, as yet there are no off-the shelf solutions in terms of technologies to enable the transition to take place. Important investment of resources is required to investigate and to start co-developing and testing technologies for the small-scale fishing vessels of the future. Such a process needs to involve the small-scale sector from the start, and for solutions to be developed and tested in different regions, types of fisheries and with different fishing methods. Funding for the development of prototypes adapted to specific regional and fisheries requirements is key. Whilst some studies to develop prototypes have been undertaken by LIFE members, no funding seems to be available for such research and development in any of the MS operational plans. This needs to be rectified, and LIFE calls for both Member States and the EC to provide support through directly funded projects to allow testing of new technologies and prototypes, and to evaluate the potential to replicate and up-scale these at a wider level. We also have to take special care that designing the vessels of the future takes account of, and does not lead to the loss of traditional types of boats, and the loss of the cultural traditions that are associated with them.
Targeted Financial Support Required for Energy Transition in the Small-scale Fleet
Due to the specificities and diversity of small-scale fishing operations and the small size of their vessels, decarbonisation and the transition to alternative energy sources is likely to require a rethink on the whole design and configuration of many small-scale vessels. It is not just a case of modernising existing vessels, and replacing engines, but building new boats that take into account vessel stability, crew safety, secure operation of equipment, onboard fish handling and storage. This will have implications for the way fishing is done, and may require the development of new skills. All this can’t be done using private sources of funding alone. Public funding will have to be made available, including use of the EMFAF. LIFE therefore calls for EMFAF funding to be made available to support the building of new small-scale fishing boats (up to 12m), with the proviso that they produce low carbon emissions and use passive gears only. Young fishers and newcomers to the sector should be given preference so as to incentivise a new generation to take up small-scale low impact fishing.
Finally, in this Communication there is no mention of, or reference to the wider societal challenges of such an Energy Transition Process; how the need for increased alternative renewable sources of energy is leading to an exponential increase in offshore energy generation and the consequent industrialization of the coastal shores where they are located. The urgency for such a transition in the context of the war in Ukraine raises concerns on who is leading the process and how it will be done, with the fear that the agenda of energy companies’ powerful lobbies will dictate. The environmental and socio-economic impacts of such installations are significant, and need to be taken into account of. Therefore, LIFE calls for an inclusive process of Marine Spatial Planning to be guaranteed throughout the EU Member states, ensuring that SSF are properly included as relevant stakeholders, with a dedicated voice. Independent socio-economic and environmental impact assessments of these developments must be carried out, along with investigations into alternative technologies to reduce the negative impacts of renewable energy generation.
Response to the Communication on an Action Plan to protect and restore marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries (Marine Action Plan)
The loss of natural marine habitats, together with overfishing, pollution and climate change, puts the foundations for economic activities and fishing livelihoods at risk. To bend the curve of biodiversity decline, fisheries management needs to prevent overfishing, and we need action to reduce and reverse pollution, to protect marine habitats, and to invest in marine restoration. This is why a Nature Restoration Law and this Marine Action Plan are so important.
For LIFE, there are important synergies to be built between our Call to Action and the Marine Action Plan. First and foremost, LIFE’s Call to Action calls for fair access to restored and co-managed fishing grounds. We believe that securing wider inshore fishing areas reserved for small-scale low impact fishing, effectively managed through adaptive local co-management regimes could be a fisheries governance model that would contribute to achieving these desired results. Small-scale low impact fisheries could, and should be part of the solution to restoring nature in our seas.
- Co-management and inclusion must be part of MPAs and the 30 x 30 objective
LIFE recognizes that Marine Protected Areas can be effective in restoring and conserving marine biodiversity and supporting coastal communities that depend on fishing for their livelihoods and food security. However, it is crucially important that the objectives setting, site selection, and management of MPAs is carried out in a transparent, participative and inclusive manner, involving fishing sector representatives in all stages of the process. There is a danger that quantitative targets for establishing MPAs on their own, as in the case of the 30 x 30 initiative, will lead to paper parks, with no clear objectives, management plans, or involvement of stakeholders. This is a recipe for failure. LIFE advocates for co-management to be applied to this process, as it could enable a bottom-up approach, and build co-responsibility and buy-in of the sector. As a prerequisite, a voluntary and flexible European regulation for a co-management framework should be established, along with support instruments and adequate funding, as set out in the recently approved European Parliament Resolution on Co-management . We recall that LIFE has produced several reports on fisheries co-management (principles, practices and challenges), and on the lessons learned from real case studies, in two different reports published on our webpage that could be of use.
National authorities should also urgently study, and where appropriate endorse and formally adopt those MPA proposals already put forward from the SSF sector. Adequate resources should be allocated to all MPAs (existing and new ones) to promote and ensure effective management, including for control and enforcement and participative governance, to maximise its environmental and socioeconomic benefits.
We also have to bear in mind that Small-scale fishing across the EU is already under intense spatial competition as the coastal zone is fragmented by multiple uses and designations including industrial fisheries, maritime transport, renewable energy, port and other infrastructure, aquaculture, tourism and recreation. Displacement and spatial squeezing will present even greater challenges in the years to come precisely given the MPA strategy 30 by 30, EU Green Deal energy transition targets (as mentioned in the section above) and the wider Blue economy development. Therefore, LIFE calls on the EU and MS to promote a holistic and inclusive processes of Marine Spatial Planning in line with the Directive 2014/89/EU, ensuring improved coordination and alignment between fisheries management and spatial planning decisions, and as already called for in the Communication on the implementation report of CFP. In those processes, the Small-scale fisheries sector should have a dedicated voice, with fair power of decision, where they are recognised as valuable actors in the blue economy of our coastal communities and their knowledge and needs are taken into account.
- Clarity Needed on Mobile Bottom Fishing
Whilst more clarity is needed on what the Commission considers to be “mobile bottom fishing”, LIFE generally supports the communication proposal to call on Member States to prohibit mobile bottom fishing in the MPAs that are Natura 2000 sites designated under the Habitats Directive and that have seabed protection objectives. It seems a logical step to make these areas functional and fit for purpose for protecting sea floor integrity and associated biodiversity, which will provide benefits to the EU fishing fleet as a whole in the medium and long term. For other MPAs, management decisions will depend on the objectives set for them. Suitable management plans should be defined so as to be aligned with MPA objectives.
This will require addressing and minimising the socio-economic consequences these decisions may have on fishing communities in the short term. LIFE calls for these measures to be implemented progressively and with care within longer timelines than the one proposed of 2024, allowing affected fleets to adapt, and to allow the harbours and communities affected to re-strategize their collective fisheries and markets. The EU and MS should support this process in a structured way, with the full participation of the fisheries sector. Incentives for a fair transition to lower impact fisheries compatible in the designated areas should be promoted and support for the definitive exit of the sector (scrapping funding) should be guaranteed for those fishers enabling a dignified retirement or change of activity.
- Fishery interactions with sensitive species
LIFE believes that addressing overfishing and restoring the health of marine and coastal ecosystems will also have other important consequences that up to now have not been given adequate consideration, for example, in the potential reduction of interactions between fisheries and sensitive and vulnerable species. An ecosystems-based approach to improve ocean resilience should be a main priority to address sensitive vulnerable species protection.
- Existing voluntary agreements to protect harbour porpoises in some parts of the Baltic (Schleswig-Holstein), the development of seal resistant gears in Sweden (see link of the video here), and LIFE’s reports on the engagement of fishers to reduce interactions between cetaceans and small-scale fisheries in the Mediterranean (see link of the final reports here and of the video here) show the commitment of LIFE and small-scale fishers to engage proactively and to continuously review the performance of their activity and proactively seek for solutions where they are needed.
Establishing threshold values for maximum mortality rates for sensitive and endangered species should be based on best scientific advice and taking into account the influence of all factors (including lack of food, competition with other predators, marine pollution etc.). Where possible, advice should be provided based on detailed information at the subregional and regional levels, i.e. at the level of the ICES subdivisions and Geographical Sub Areas in the case of the Mediterranean.
Management measures and plans for protected areas should be developed within specific co-management groups at the local level, involving the relevant interest groups, with constant monitoring of progress, enabling those plans to be dynamic and adaptive. Progressive compromises should be sought to balance the conservation of threatened and endangered species with the viability of small-scale fisheries. The specific difficulties faced in some small-scale fisheries due to a lack of alternatives, should be tackled and taken into account. Also, the provisions of the existing regulations and management plans (as example in the case of eel) must be implemented to demonstrate effectiveness before considering any further measures.
Further investigation and research, especially scientist-fisher collaboration projects, to look for and test mitigation solutions should be promoted and funded in all MS. In case of interactions between fisheries and marine mammals, these studies need to consider other options besides acoustic devices, such as testing new types of deterrents, developing alarm systems, etc. Incentives for changing to other gears could be promoted. LIFE is committed to, and is proactively engaged in spreading information, and promoting and organising exchanges of best practices. Further action and support is needed across the EU in this regard. Specific direct EC managed calls for proposals should be open in this respect to promote EU-wide cooperation on this subject.
Application of Natural Capital and Ecosystems Services concepts must not lead to privatisation
Finally, the Communication on the Action Plan refers to the need, by the end of 2023, to start developing a modelling tool to incorporate the concept of ‘natural capital’ in economic decisions. The concept of natural capital and the ecosystem services provided carries the risk of opening up the oceans’ commons to privatisation and misuse of the environment for investment purposes and for dysfunctional carbon offset programmes. Any such attempts to monetise invaluable assets like the environment and its ecosystem services is potentially dangerous and should be avoided. LIFE calls for the identification and investigation of other possible frameworks and for the protection of the blue commons from any sort of privatisation.
Response on the Communication on the Common Fisheries Policy today and tomorrow and Report on the Common market Organisation for fishery and aquaculture products
10 years after the adoption of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013 and its implementation in 2014, its main goals, especially those to “ensure the long-term sustainability for fisheries” and a “fair standard of living for fisheries communities”, are not being delivered. This is especially true for the small-scale low impact fleets across the EU.
Increasingly, EU small-scale fishers are having to face numerous important challenges that keep adding pressure and eroding their viability and resilience. Climate change, pollution and other causes pose major challenges to overcome. These issues aside, and in LIFE’s view, the CFP has not been able to address specific historic and on-going challenges that could have been solved through correct management and implementation of the CFP. The general lack of fish on fishing grounds reported in all regions, the degradation of marine ecosystems, unfair access to fisheries resources and degraded fishing grounds, unfair access to markets, lack of effective governance schemes or the general lack of appropriate support are still undermining the prospects for the future of the small-scale fisheries sector, their communities and livelihoods, with concerns being raised over an increasing lack of generational renewal. The distorted sea created by the CFP over decades continues to serve larger-scale short-term interests, continued under the current CFP at the expense of longer-term viability, the smaller scale sector and the wider environment.
Tangible results but action still needs to be taken
This situation requires addressing as a matter of some urgency, in LIFE’s view. This view contrasts with the relatively positive evaluation made by the Commission in its Communication on the CFP implementation. Although we agree in part with the conclusions outlined in chapter 7 (A decade of tangible results) as we will later outline in detail, the Commission seems to have stayed on the surface of the issues rather than acknowledging the real magnitude of the management failures. Despite recognising some key shortcomings that need to be improved, and on which we agree (landing obligation, governance system, allocation of quotas, strengthening ecosystem-based approach, development social indicators, etc), in our view, the Communication falls short of proposing concrete and meaningful measures that need to be applied to reverse the situation. For LIFE, this lack of recommended actions to address the specific CFP and CMO shortcomings, in such a critical situation, is disappointing. We were expecting and hoping for more. We look forward to learning more about the “Fishers of the future” project and how LIFE, as an important interested party, can engage in it. Securing a decent future for the next generation of fishers is an objective we share. However, no such future can be guaranteed without a properly functioning CFP capable of restoring marine ecosystems and enabling SSF to thrive.
Need for a differentiated approach
In LIFE’s view, and as highlighted in our Call to Action, a major shortcoming of the 2013 CFP is the lack of a differentiated approach for the management of small and large scale fisheries. The “Commission staff working document” mentions that “several provisions tailored to the specific features of SSF already exist”. However, those provisions have fallen far short in their application (preferential access in the 12-nautical miles coastal band, representation of SSF in the Advisory Councils, use of Article 17 etc.). The exemption of SSF from certain obligations through specific derogations can also work against our sector’s interests. Rather, we call for a differentiated approach to ensure a level-playing field, guaranteeing fair access to markets, fair access to resources and fishing grounds, and reducing the vulnerability of SSF to the impacts of larger scale high volume fisheries. Above all, a differentiated approach would provide a specific framework enabling SSF to thrive. The lack of recognition and action taken in this regard is an opportunity missed, as evidence indicates that if small scale fishers were provided with the enabling policy environment intended by the CFP, together with the political will to implement it, small scale low impact fisheries could make all the difference between success and failure to the implementation of the 2013 CFP. LIFE strongly believes that SSF and a transition to low impact fisheries is part of the solution, and this is also reflected in numerous recent parliament resolutions.
The Commission’s Communication points to a number of specific elements of the CFP where implementation needs to be improved (summarised in Section 7 – A Decade of Tangible Results). We discuss this below:
- Protecting marine ecosystems and resources; addressing overfishing
The Communication acknowledges that “fishing activities continue to adversely affect marine ecosystems, particularly through seabed disturbance, by-catch of sensitive species and effects on marine food webs and attention is needed on reaching the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), strengthening the ecosystem-based approach and effective control and enforcement of commercial and recreational fisheries”, among other measures. While at LIFE we agree on the need strengthening data collection and science, continuing to strive for evidence-based decision making and ensuring coherent and effective control and enforcement to reduce the risks of overfishing, there is increasingly scientific evidence that the Commission approach to MSY-based management of stocks has driven to undesired scenarios: Weakening of fish populations, where smaller and more juvenile fish individuals are weakened to face growing challenges such as disease, ocean warming, eutrophication and intensive fisheries. This is because it has prioritised biomass output over well-structured fish populations, which is having perverse effects on fish stocks and the SSF fleet. It is imperative to go beyond MSY as the only reference point, and to drop the use of the MSY B trigger as a reference point. Strengthening the ecosystem-based approach is an essential aspect that needs to be looked at and LIFE applauds the Commission for moving forward in this direction. However, in our view, it is also necessary to look at alternative tools for stock assessment in multispecies fisheries and advice that can complement the MSY approach. Alternative management objectives avoiding maximisation of yields could lead to more desirable outcomes in terms of larger spawning stock biomass (SSB) and age structure of fish populations, with little overall costs to long-term catch and lower energy usage/fishing effort.
LIFE also calls on the Commission to improve the implementation of existing sea basin specific Multiannual Management Plans, adjusting them where necessary, taking into account all fleet segments, including recreational fisheries. An array of meaningful measures to address the overall impact of fishing and biomass extracted need to be put forward, with specific provisions to incentivise low impact fisheries.
LIFE is concerned by the lack of progress to adopt an ambitious and holistic Control Regulation, and the apparent lack of political will at Member State level to reach a compromise with the Commission and Parliament in the trilogue negotiations. A Control Regulation fit for the purpose of effective control and enforcement in both commercial and recreational fisheries is crucial for the proper functioning of the CFP. It is unacceptable that 10 years after the adoption of 2013 CFP, there continues to be a dysfunctional Control Regulation.
LIFE also calls for the inclusion of recreational fisheries in the CFP and the Control Regulation, with effective provisions to manage and regulate their activities in line with CFP objectives, ensuring that their contribution to fishing effort and impact on stocks is given due consideration.
- The allocation of quotas at national level and the transparency of the process
LIFE agrees with the report on the need for transparency, and the recognition in chapter 4 (improving the CFP governance) that “good governance also relies on more transparency” and in this regard “stakeholders need to have clear information about how Member States allocate fishing opportunities and manage fleet capacity at national level”. We are happy with the announcement that the Commission “will work together with scientific bodies and with Member States to further assess and ensure the transparency of those criteria (used for allocating fishing opportunities) and their conformity with the CFP provisions and to encourage the use of criteria that can foster sustainable fishing practices and support SSF”. In this regard we applaud the commitment of the Commission to ask the STECF, in 2023, to analyse, the criteria used by Member States for the allocation of fishing opportunities at national level; and initiate discussions among Member States and stakeholders with views to preparing a vademecum on the allocation of fishing opportunities in order to improve transparency, promote sustainable fishing practices across the EU, and support small-scale and coastal fishers. However, we note that there is no recognition that the implementation of Article 17 has been both a failure and missed opportunity. In our view there is a need for a clearer call to Member States to implement it fully within a specific timeframe and with a requirement to report progress on an annual basis.
We appreciate the proposal to prepare a vademecum on the allocation of fishing opportunities, and look forward to having greater clarity on what this will look like and how LIFE can be engaged in the process outlined. We recall that LIFE, together with OurFish, have already produced a report on “How the EU fishing Fleet Can Become Low Environmental Impact, Low Carbon and Socially Just”, outlining a range of options on how the allocation of fishing opportunities could be an agent of positive change. Other relevant reports include the Methodological Considerations of an Allocation of Fishing Quotas Based on Social and Environmental Criteria, the European Parliament Resolution on Article 17, and the European Parliament Resolution on the small-scale fisheries situation in the EU and future perspectives.
- About the fishing capacity
The issue of capacity and fishing effort are closely linked, and the use of fishing days as the basic unit of fishing effort can be misleading. In particular, year on year, the STECF Annual Economic Report has stated that the SSF fleet accounts for the lion’s share of the fishing effort of the EU fishing fleet. Such a statement assumes that one fishing day of a small scale vessel, catching tens, or at most, hundreds of kilos per day is equivalent to that of a trawler or super trawler catching several tonnes or hundreds of tonnes per day.
Similarly, there is a serious flaw in the way Member States report annually on the matching of fleet capacity to the available resources, which discriminates against the small-scale coastal fleet. The SSF is routinely described as having overcapacity in fisheries where biomass has seen significant declines (in part due to the lack of implementation of the landing obligation and associated quota increases based on assumed compliance). However, the contribution of SSF to fishing mortality is marginal compared to larger scale fleets. In MS reports, due to the different characteristics of vessel segments in terms of how far they can travel, larger boats are assessed as having access to a wider range of fish stocks than the SSF. Therefore, even if both segments have been fishing the same stock, and the fishery is closed, it is not the case that they would both be assessed as having overcapacity. That would be determined by the theoretical availability of other fish stocks that the Member State (not necessarily the vessel itself) have access to. It is perverse that the SSF which makes a relatively minor contribution to total mortality (for example Baltic western spring spawning herring), can be classified as having overcapacity whereas fisheries, for example herring and sprat in the Baltic, where the more industrial fleet has the capacity to fish the quota 10 times over, is assessed as not having overcapacity. We need to recall also that, related to this, there are implications for EMFAF, as financing can be tied to conditions regarding overcapacity in a given fishery.
For effective fisheries management we need better tools for measuring capacity and fishing effort, and better ways of expressing capacity and effort in the different fleet segments. LIFE calls on STECF and the Commission to further analyse this and seek ways to develop systems that are fair, accountable and fit for purpose.
- About the landing obligation and its costs and benefits for society and for fishers
Although the Landing Obligation (LO) came into force in 2019, due to a lack of political will at MS level and within the sector, its provisions have hardly been implemented. Huge amounts of public money have been granted for the development of new, more selective, gear, especially for trawling, while in fact very few vessels have actually transitioned to these new gears. The continuous delay in implementing the LO continues to aggravate the situation for fish stocks and ecosystems, encouraging misreporting, with resultant fisheries mis-management and the erosion of the resilience of all fishing sectors, especially the SSF fleet. Investing in supporting and encouraging those fishers that already transitioned to low impact selective fishing would have been more efficient as well as providing incentives for genuine change, in our view. LIFE fully supports the objectives to reduce environmental impacts of fishing and end discards, and we feel that legislating for more diversified, polyvalent, seasonally sound and selective fishing (right gear, right time, right place) is part of the solution to end discards. At the same time, high impact gears with unacceptably high by-catch rates and which cause the most damage to seabed, to fish habitats and marine ecology should be phased out.
- Implementation of the Common Organisation of the Markets (CMO)
LIFE’s Call to action highlights the need for a fair access to markets and for sustainable and fair food systems, where traceability can enable the differentiation of small-scale fishery products in the market, and where Community Supported Fisheries and direct, short value chain and marketing schemes can empower small-scale fishing organisations to become price makers. In this respect, we await with anticipation the publication of a new regulatory proposal later in 2023, as part of the food systems initiative towards a harmonised EU approach to Sustainable food production. We hope that it will create space for SSF and Community Supported Fisheries, as called for in the Foodnected Project, implemented by LIFE and its partners.
To achieve the above, it is vital that our sector is supported to establish appropriate dedicated small-scale Fish Producer Organisations (POs), where value added rather than volume is the criteria. However, in its current state, the CMO is unable to provide an enabling policy framework for SSF to succeed in setting up such dedicated POs. Improving the collective organisation of Small-scale fishers through dedicated Producer Organisations (POs) is also key “for having their voice heard at the MS and EU level” and “is part of the solution to accessing fishing opportunities and marine spatial planning decisions”, as recognised in the Commission’s report. We are happy to see that this dysfunctionality is well described in the Report: “It is well recognised that the small-scale Producer Organisations remains a challenge, that there is a need for a better structuring of small-scale fishers, the lack of appropriate administrative and/or financial support to establish SSF POs or that member states do not take sufficient account of their specificities laying down criteria for recognition”.
However, despite this acknowledgement, the report lacks any proposal for action while keeping silent on the need for clarity on the respective roles of the Commission and Member states, which is disappointing.
Currently there are a number of small-scale Producer Organisations applications that remain to be approved and recognised by different MS, but beyond that, the administrative and financial burden, and general feelings of insecurity and lack of empowerment, is preventing many SSF organisations across the EU from starting such a lengthy, uncertain and costly process. Going forward, it’s important for the Commission and MS to streamline the application and recognition processes of small-scale Producer Organisations and to encourage the creation of new small-scale Producer Organisations. This will require the development of suitable criteria for the establishment of small-scale Producer Organisations, for the establishment of specific legal provisions to establish Transnational Producer Organisations and to take a more active role to simplify administrative burdens between Member States and SSF Organisations. LIFE offers its support and would be happy to play an active role in channelling these demands, and to cooperate in developing suitable criteria and provisions for such POs. Finally we call on the Commission and MS to open calls for proposals dedicated to establishing new small-scale Producer Organisations.
To conclude, at LIFE we welcome the publication of the Fisheries and Oceans Pact, and recognise the need to agree collectively with all stakeholders and authorities on a way forward, to improve collective governance of our fisheries, by the European Commission, Member States, along with the fishery sector and other stakeholders. This is vital to end ambiguity and establish the political will at all levels to fully implement the CFP, whilst ensuring accountability and transparency. The Pact is also vitally important in the context of current challenges and to set the stage for the fisheries of the future.