Ecosystem Based Fisheries Management (EBFM)


New but weak technical measures for EU fisheries on its way

Text: Gustaf Almqvist

To meet the objectives set in the Common Fisheries policy (CFP), the European Parliament, on January 15, voted on a proposed regulation defining how, where and when to fish – the so called technical measures. A revision of these measures was needed in order for fisheries to fulfil the landing obligations. In particular to reduce the number of unwanted (/undersized) fish in the catches and to minimise habitat degradation associated with fishing activities, primarily caused by demersal (bottom) trawling.

However, it is doubtful that the text now passed by the Parliament would drive EU fisheries in a positive direction. The wording in the voted legal text is too weak and since the European Council’s text is judged to be even less ambitious - both watered down versions of the original Commission proposal which they are based on - it is not very likely that we will see any big changes being made to the text in the upcoming trialogue discussions between the three EU institutions.

The issue is that the legal text has become too vague and it will be problematic to actually make sure that objectives are fulfilled and adhered to. For example, area specific targets on acceptable unwanted catch levels, which were initially discussed, are sadly not to be found in the Parliament text. As a consequence, adherence to the landing obligation will be difficult to judge and violations difficult to address and prosecute.

The vast majority of stakeholders, including NGOs and decision-makers, have previously expressed ambition to establish a more result based and flexible management system, allowing fishermen to better adjust behaviour and techniques to local conditions and demands. The text as it stands now is in conflict with this aim, instead an even more detailed EU management regulation may be an outcome.

There has also been criticism raised that the legislation will weaken current protection on marine ecosystems. For example, Björn Stockhausen at the Brussels based environmental NGO Seas At Risk stated that: ‘The European Parliament has weakened the measures that have granted protection to the European seas for decades. These new diminished rules will undermine the health of marine ecosystems and the stability of fish stocks. This decision of a majority of European parliamentarians was undoubtedly hijacked by the vested interests of particular fishing fleets and regions.’

During the last couple of weeks, the discussion on the controversial fishing methodology of electric pulse fishing, and if that should be allowed or not in EU waters, seems to have overridden much else. At the Baltic Sea Centre, we are happy that the Parliament voted against this practice, mostly since the ecological consequences on both targeted commercial fish stocks and bottom organisms are unknown. Yet, we regret that so much light was shed on this specific topic and not on others, and for the Baltic Sea fisheries, more important issues. Such as setting measurable targets to improve adherence to the landing obligation in the Baltic Sea cod fisheries, where a considerable degree of discarding still occurs.