How to End EU Stalemate Over Baltic Multi-annual Fishing Plan

In early June, we explained how negotiations on a multi-annual plan (MAP) for certain fish stocks in the Baltic Sea had entered their final phase. Nearly two months later, there is still no agreement. Why? Negotiators have hit an impasse, caused by an apparent lack of motivation by some to fully implement the European Union’s reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

These multi-annual plans for EU fisheries are intended to minimize decision-making based on short-term interests and maximize the likelihood of sustainable fishing. In 2013, the EU agreed to an ambitious CFP reform. The policy now includes a binding commitment to end overfishing—a simple policy requirement that should result in a healthier marine environment, profitable fisheries, and viable coastal communities.

The EU Fisheries Council, made up of fisheries ministers from each of the EU member nations, historically has legislated overfishing for decades. Under the Lisbon Treaty of 2009, the Fisheries Council is not the sole decision-making body for drafting multi-annual plans. It now shares this responsibility with the directly elected European Parliament.

Following the CFP reform, a taskforce composed of representatives from the Council, the European Parliament, and the European Commission made a non-binding political deal that called for fishing limits in multi-annual plans to be expressed as ranges. So when the Commission was drafting the proposal for a MAP for the Baltic, it asked the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) for ranges “around” sustainable fishing limits, known as FMSY. This request implied that the Commission was willing to consider limits above those clearly specified in the CFP, and which would result in continued overfishing.

The Council welcomed this Commission proposal, effectively giving ministers the leeway to continue to legislate overfishing. However, the Parliament, led by the Polish MEP Jarosław Wałęsa, has been unwilling to agree to a plan that threatens the principal ambition of the CFP. Wałęsa is pushing for ranges that do not exceed sustainable fishing limits. This position secured a large majority in the Parliament, giving him a strong negotiating position in the trilogue negotiations.

The conflicting positions have resulted in a stalemate. Parliament has a strong mandate to defend the ambition of the CFP, while the Council is demanding “flexibility” that would allow overfishing to continue.

The Council’s failure to agree to a Baltic multi-annual plan that meets the objectives of the CFP would threaten the policy’s very implementation. “We have to make sure FMSY is the limit,’’ Wałęsa said June 25 after negotiations broke down. That is what is enshrined in the CFP, and what has been celebrated by hundreds of thousands of Europe’s citizens. The fisheries ministers must recognize and act on this point.

Andrew Clayton directs Pew’s efforts to end overfishing in northwestern Europe.