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EU’s fisheries ministers reached an agreement on a new fisheries control system

Last November, the European Commission proposed a Regulation establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy as it has finally recognised that “The current control system is inefficient, expensive and complex and does not produce the desired results.” The proposal is going through the consultation procedure with QMV required at the Council. The European Parliament adopted its opinion last April but the Council is not bound by it. On 20 October, after very long overnight negotiations, the EU’s fisheries ministers reached a political agreement on the draft proposal.

The Regulation establishes a new system for inspection, monitoring, control, surveillance and enforcement of Common Fisheries Policy rules “throughout the market chain, from catch to the retailer.” Hence, it brings together in one measure all the current control elements of the CFP but it also introduces several new provisions.

All Member States will be required to inspect activities along the whole production chain of fishery products including landing, processing, transport and marketing. It also introduces a complete traceability system for fishery products in order that all fish and fisheries products can be tracked throughout the market chain. Those involved in the landing and marketing of fish would be required to declare the quantities landed, transhipped, offered for sale or purchased.

The European Commission has proposed to include an extension of vessel monitoring systems (VMS) and e-logbooks to all vessels over 10 metres in length, rather than 15 metres as presently. Obviously, this would have costs implications as operators would have to invest on onboard electronic equipment. The majority of the EU member states deemed the obligation to equip vessels with electronic control systems as an excessive burden, particularly for small vessels. According to the UK Government impact assessment this proposal could cost about £4.3 million in one-off costs and an average annual cost of £531,000. The Member States agreed to water down the proposal, consequently, the obligation for fishing vessels to install electronic equipment for the satellite-based vessel monitoring system (VMS) and use of the electronic logbook, Automatic Identification System (AIS), will be extended to vessels measuring more than 12 metres. The Commission has pointed out that it is possible to apply for assistance under the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) for the installation of this equipment. According to the European Parliament the EU budget aid should be available for installing vessel monitoring systems and electronic logbooks at a co-financing rate of 80%.

The Commission has stressed that the action taken follow an infringement of the CFP rules is different from one Member State to another and that infringements are not subject to the same enforcement measures or sanctions. Presently, penalties are not established at the EU level but they are Member States responsibility however the Commission has proposed to harmonise the minimum and maximum levels of fines for serious infringements against the rules of the CPF. A maximum penalty would correspond to five times the value of the fishery products obtained by committing a serious infringement, or eight times in the case of a repeated serious infringement. The Commission has proposed harsher penalties than those foreseen in several Member State’s legislation. Several member states were reluctant over the idea of harmonising penal sanctions and establishing common maximum/ minimum levels.

The Commission has also proposed a penalty point system for infringements committed by masters, operators or beneficial owners of a fishing permit. When an infringement is committed, the appropriate number of points will be attributed to the offender in the national registry of fishery offences of the flag Member State. An implementation regulation, adopted through the comitology procedure, will fix the number of points to be attributed for specific infringements. The Member States agreed to put in place a penalty point system. Depending on the number of points operators might have their fishing authorisation suspended for six months or 12 months and in case of repeated offences the fishing permit will be automatically revoked.

Under the Commission’s proposal recreational fishermen would have been required to register their boats and their catches would have to be counted as part of limits on national catch quotas. The Member States have decided to limit the impact of the new regulation on recreational fishing hence hobby anglers will be required to report catches of species under recovery plans, such as cod in North Sea and Baltic Sea and bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic bluefin tuna. Struan Stevenson, Conservative fisheries spokesman has said "I still do not see what benefit it will bring to fish conservation by forcing a hobby angler in Stonehaven to fill out a form every time he catches a cod."

It should be recall that control and enforcement are the exclusive competence of the Member States. The Commission has powers of verifying implementation of the CFP rules by Member States. However, unsurprisingly, the Commission wanted to strengthen its management powers. Commission inspectors will have the same powers as national inspectors. The Commission will be empowered to carry out inspections without prior notice to verify the control operations carried out by the competent authorities of Member States.

The Commission has proposed the possibility to impose financial sanctions on Member States such as to suspend or reduce financial assistance through the European Fisheries Fund in case of poor management of their obligations under the Common Fisheries Policy and to deduct quantities from the following year’s quota where a Member State has overfished. According to the Council of Ministers’ legal service the Commission cannot impose sanctions on member states but aid payments can be made conditional on compliance with EU rules. The EU member states were split over whether payments from the European Fisheries Fund should be suspended to member states that breach the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy. Whereas the UK, Germany and the Netherlands, support the proposal, France has argued that this would be incompatible with EU law. Under the compromise reached by the Swedish EU Presidency, the European Commission may suspend or reduce EU financial assistance if a member state does not satisfactorily apply control measures. The member states also agreed on new rules for quotas reduction in cases of poor quota management.

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ABOUT BILL CASH MP

Bill Cash has been the Conservative Member of Parliament for Stone since 1997 and an MP since 1984.

He is currently the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee and the founder member of the European Foundation...

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