For a comprehensive overview of the negotiations, agreements and decisions implementing the reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy, please see the Library brieifng SN/SC-05957 at the bottom of this page.

The Common Fisheries Policy

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is a set of rules for managing European fishing fleets and for conserving fish stocks. It attempts to give all European fishing fleets equal access to EU waters and fishing grounds allowing fishermen to compete fairly. It does so through the system of Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and quotas. The CFP was first introduced in the 1970s and went through successive updates, the most recent of which took effect on 1 January 2014.

Total Allowable Catches (TACs) and Quotas

Every year, the European Commission proposes a TAC for each commercial species for each area within the EU 200-mile limit. This is based on a scientific assessment of the health of each species. The TACs are then agreed by the Council of Ministers at the end of the year. Each TAC is divided into national quotas according to the principle of “relative stability”.

Defra leads in the annual Member State negotiations over fishing quota for the UK as a whole. Since 2012, however, the devolved administrations have been allocated shares (agreed annually) of UK fish quotas for distribution to their fleets. Fishing vessels are still free to move their operations to other parts of the UK.

The Marine Management Organisation (MMO) manages quota in England. But some fishermen are concerned about this process, particularly the low proportion of quota allocated to smaller boats (the under 10 metre fleet).

The reformed Common Fisheries Policy, 2014-2020

After three years of negotiation reforms to the CFP were agreed in December 2013. Phased implementation will take place from 1 January 2014 through to 2020. The newly agreed measures include:

  1. A ban on the wasteful practice of discarding perfectly edible (the ‘fish-landing obligation’):
  2. A legally binding commitment to fishing at sustainable levels (the ‘Maximum Sustainable Yield’); and
  3. Decentralised decision making.

On 31 March 2014, the Government announced a package of public consultations concerning the implementation of reforms to the CFP (31 March to 12 May 2014).

Discard ban

Discards are estimated to account for around 23% of all EU catches—about 1.7 million tonnes of fish discarded annually—and in some fisheries, discard rates have been up to 90% of catches. The fish landing obligation (also known as a discard ban) requires that all fish caught at sea must be landed; not returned to the sea (or discarded). On 1 January 2015 the phased introduction of a landing obligation began for all pelagic fisheries (e.g. mackerel and herring). Discard bans for other species and all EU fisheries are due to come into effect in subsequent years.

Concerns have been raised about what will happen to undersized fish that would have previously been discarded. The Government advises that undersize fish (below Minimum Conservation Reference Size) can be directed to non-direct human consumption markets such as fish meal, fish oil, bait, pet food, food additives, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and digestion.

Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY)

In 2015, Defra announced that 32 stocks of fish species were being fished at MSY, up from 26 in 2014. However, an EU publication highlights that as many as 75% of EU fish stocks are being overfished, compared to 25% on average worldwide.

Following the 2015 fish quota agreements, several environmental groups raised concerns that the deal included fishing quotas above the scientific advice, which would fail to adequately protect depleted fishing stocks. In contrast, the Coalition Government hailed the quota agreements as a fair deal, and the National Fisherman’s’ Federation Organisation (NFFO) saw the deal as striking a balance between protecting fishing livelihoods, whilst continuing to rebuild fish stocks.

Decentralised decision making

The European Commission website explains that CFP regionalisation could be used in:  multiannual plans, discard plans, establishment of fish stock recovery areas and conservation measures necessary for compliance with obligations under EU environmental legislation. Where regionalisation applies, EU countries with a direct management interest may agree to submit joint recommendations for achieving the objectives of the above-mentioned plan or measure.

Further reading

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