George Eustice, Conservative MP for Camborne and Redruth and Fishing Minister, says new EU fisheries rules could be radical
Later this week I will be visiting fishermen in Newlyn to discuss the problems they have had over the last six weeks as a result of the stormy weather which has severely restricted the number of days they have been able to spend at sea as well as considerable damage to boats and fishing equipment.
While it has undoubtedly been a very difficult start to the year for Cornish fishermen, I think the longer term outlook gives some grounds for optimism because, at the beginning of January, the EU finally put into law a new reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which has the potential to deliver radical change and to become a potential model for further reform in other areas of European policy.
The old CFP epitomised the shortcomings of decision making at a European level. The policy tended to be slow to adapt and reform. Because the marine environment is so complicated, a centralised system of management at a European level has always led to unintended consequences which have been counterproductive to the aims of creating a sustainable fishing industry.
However, we know that some form of policy to manage the marine environment is also essential. A successful fishing industry depends on all countries adhering to fishing practices which mean there will be fish tomorrow and an industry for the next generation to enter. It is neither good for the marine environment nor for our fishing industry if we hammer stocks of declining fish species. We also have to recognise that most fishing takes place in international seas and many nations have historic access rights in one another's waters. So, whether or not there was a Common Fisheries Policy, we would still need to negotiate agreements with many other countries about how to manage shared fisheries. Indeed, at this very moment, we are in the middle of complex negotiations with Norway, Iceland and the Faroe Islands about how best to allocate fishing opportunities for mackerel in the North Sea.
There were a number of important aspects to the new CFP deal agreed at the end of last year and now in force. Firstly, there is a commitment to ban the discard of good fish. It has always been a disgraceful practice that perfectly healthy fish are thrown dead back into the sea because the fisherman who landed them did not happen to have the right quota. That will now end.
Secondly, to help make the discard ban work in practice, fishermen will receive a quota uplift so they can land more. They will also be granted much greater flexibility so that if they unexpectedly land more of one species for which they have no quota, then they will be allowed to count it against quota for another species instead rather than be forced to throw it dead back into the sea. If they happen to do better than expected at the end of the year, then they will also be allowed to borrow some quota from the following year.
The third key aspect of the new policy is that there is now a legally-binding commitment to fish sustainably or at what scientists call Maximum Sustainable Yield. This means that we have a policy that focuses on the outcome rather than getting too bogged down in process and all member states in the EU have accepted this approach.
Finally, the new CFP has moved away from a centralised model where the entire EU sets out prescriptive policies. In future, small groups of member states which have a shared interest in a fishery will decide on the management measures that will deliver sustainable fishing. Because they all have an interest in the future of the fishery, they are more likely to put thought into getting things right.
Taken together, these reforms have the potential to be a radical reform. I really hope both the industry and all EU governments will roll their sleeves up to make this a success. It combines a common European objective on sustainability with the flexibility to recognise realities and decision making returned to member states, having all the ingredients of a potential new model for European cooperation that could be applied to other areas.