MPs call for a sea change in fisheries policy.

An influential group of back-bench MPs has concluded that radical reform is needed to ensure that the CFP delivers for the fish, the fishermen, and the coastal communities that depend on them.

“Centralised micro-management by Brussels has failed UK fishermen”, says Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Anne McIntosh MP.

“Member States must have greater say over fisheries policy in their own waters”, adds McIntosh, “so we are calling on Government to press for a more ambitious reform that genuinely brings power back to Member States”.

In a report published today, the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee examines the EU’s proposals for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which sparked a public outcry last year over the amounts of fish discarded. 

The Committee notes that the Commission has baulked at repatriation of fishing policy through a full-scale Treaty change but highlights an alternative. “We have trawled the legislation and found a ground-breaking way to bring back aspects of fisheries policy through amending the EU regulations without requiring a Treaty change.  Now it’s up to UK Government to make bold moves to bring decision-making over fisheries policy closer to coastal communities and the people whose livelihoods depend on it, “ says McIntosh.

“Countries across Europe recognise the failings of the CFP. Greater autonomy over fishing policy will be welcomed by many Member States and so we call on the Government to build alliances with like-minded countries to bring about the necessary reforms” adds McIntosh.

MPs also question whether the EU Commission’s proposal for a ban on the discarding of fish at sea will prove effective.

Commenting further, Anne McIntosh says that “everyone is appalled by revelations about the levels of discarding. We heard first-hand from fishermen in Hastings how frustrating it is for them to have to throw back perfectly good cod into the sea”

“The Commission is right to want to tackle this, but we are concerned that a knee-jerk reaction to the public outcry will do more harm than good. The last thing that we want to see is unwanted fish in the sea becoming unwanted fish in landfill”.

Instead, the Committee argues for a more gradual approach built on a sound science base and the local experience of fishermen to find workable solutions to the discard problem that has blighted European fisheries.

Echoing its earlier report, the Committee also urges Defra not to abandon its commitment to domestic fisheries reform that delivers a fairer deal to small-scale fishermen. The Committee proposes a novel mechanism to reallocate unused fishing rights from ‘slipper skippers’ to active fishermen.

Commenting Giles Bartlett, Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF said: “It is reassuring that this influential group of MPs is calling for an urgent  change in the way fisheries are managed through the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Multi-annual plans on the basis of fisheries are a significant step forward, but the delivery mechanisms, responsibilities and timescales must be clarified.

“It is crucial the UK Government takes a lead to ensure the responsibility for the  management of these plans is decentralised to regional stakeholders. If we want to secure a thriving marine environment then fishermen, officials, scientists, industry and NGOs need to be recognised as co-managers of their fisheries, working together to implement multi-annual plans.

“Action must also be taken to ensure Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) is achieved at the earliest opportunity, and not delayed until 2020.”