Q & A

The Work to Fully Implement the EU’s Reformed Common Fisheries Policy

A conversation with Andrew Clayton, who has been the director of Pew’s project to end overfishing in North-Western Europe since July 2015. The project is supporting European Union decision makers to ensure that they meet the commitments of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, which took effect Jan. 1, 2014.

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Q: Before joining Pew in 2014, you were part of the UK government team that negotiated and agreed to the reform of the CFP. What was that like, and how does it feel now to be with a non-governmental organization working on its implementation?

Yes, I worked with the UK’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) for 17 years in a variety of roles, including on fisheries policies. So I experienced the CFP reform negotiations first-hand and saw the process from start to finish. I am not sure anybody anticipated that the process would last as long as it did or generate so much public interest. But certainly the public played a large part in persuading decision makers, including the European Parliament and Commissioner, to adopt more ambitious positions.

Now that I am with Pew, I can really appreciate how challenging it is to make sure the public is heard in the political process. NGOs and other elements of civil society must continue to make clear to decision makers that the public supports change in how we manage our fisheries. We also have a responsibility to put good scientific information into the public domain and to stimulate debate.

Q: What surprises you most about campaigning to implement the new CFP?

Those involved in the reform were rightly proud of the commitments that were secured.  With that process behind us, we have a new CFP that sets a clear target to end overfishing and restore fish stocks. That is a clear commitment that 28 Member State governments and the EU institutions signed up to. So it surprises me that, having witnessed the energy and focus of decision makers working to reform the CFP, many of the same players now are looking for ways to delay and even dilute the policy’s ambition. This can be seen in the ongoing negotiations over a multi-annual plan for fishing in the Baltic Sea and in the decision by the Fisheries Council on Baltic fishing limits for 2016.

Q: So now that you are leading an implementation campaign for an NGO, what are the critical issues that must be addressed to realize the ambition of the CFP?

Decision makers must not lose sight of the ambition that enabled such a fundamental reform of the CFP, nor of the very clear benefits for coastal communities, economies and the marine environment that will come from ending overfishing and restoring fish stocks. Not surprisingly, putting policies into practice is more difficult than making a political commitment. Still, in recent months we have seen that the public clamour for change has not gone away and that civil society organizations remain eager to support decision makers in implementing the CFP without delay. For example, NGOs are backing the European Parliament’s position on a Baltic multi-annual plan. The unfortunate impasse we now face in the subsequent negotiations between Parliament and Council on the plan illustrates how some fisheries ministers are still looking for ways to legislate overfishing, while the Parliament is eager to lead on full implementation of the CFP.

Q: How is the Commission holding decision makers to account on CFP implementation at the moment?

Despite being the guardians of the legislation, the Commission has produced some disappointing proposals regarding implementation. In its draft for a multi-annual plan for fishing in the Baltic, the Commission proposed ranges of fishing rates that still could allow for overfishing. More recently, it proposed a fishing limit for cod in the Baltic that was much higher than what the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) advised. Unfortunately, in doing this, the Commission is potentially facilitating continued overfishing. We encourage the Commission to implement the CFP fully and without delay, as do other European NGOs. The alternative is clear: a further decline in the health of the marine environment and the communities that rely on fish stocks for a sustainable living.

Q: How do you find working with the fishing industry?

I belong to two advisory councils (ACs), the region-focused fisheries stakeholder groups that advise the Commission and Member States. In that role, I spend a lot of time with some key fishing industry leaders. There can be a fair amount of disagreement when we are working on draft advice or positions. Yet all involved in the ACs are doing their best to make that regional process work so that management decisions are grounded in reality. We often manage to find compromise.

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