EU Negotiators Agree on Multi-Annual Plan for Fish Stocks in the Baltic Sea

Inconsistencies with goals of Common Fisheries Policy reinforce need for stronger plans elsewhere

Leaders of the European Union reached agreement in March on a multi-annual plan (MAP) for certain fish stocks in the Baltic Sea. The compromise among representatives of the European Fisheries Council, Parliament, and Commission follows 10 months of trilogue negotiations.

During that process, Parliament representatives argued strongly against efforts by the Council to set aside key elements of the EU’s reformed Common Fisheries Policy. The result is a plan that places greater emphasis on flexibility than on strict adherence to the law’s requirements.

Last spring, after the Commission published its MAP proposal, Parliament established its position on the Baltic plan by agreeing to a negotiation mandate in line with the CFP. The policy calls for restoring and maintaining fish populations above levels that can produce what is known as maximum sustainable yield (MSY), the largest average catch that can be taken from a stock without significantly affecting reproduction levels.

However, the Council, made up of the 28 member state ministers responsible for fisheries, adopted a position that allowed for fishing limits that do not strictly adhere to the CFP objectives and could result in continued overfishing.

Throughout the process, the Parliament, represented by the Polish MEP Jarosław Wałęsa, stressed the importance of sticking to the limits defined in the CFP. The Council, on the other hand, has sought flexibility, pursuing catch ranges that would allow limits above those clearly specified in the CFP. After lengthy negotiations and sustained political pressure, the sides agreed on a compromise.

While Parliament conceded some flexibility to the Council in order to reach an agreement, it successfully defended the need to restore stocks to healthy, productive levels, a key objective of the CFP. Still, by including fishing mortality rates above MSY in the ranges, this compromise agreement risks overfishing of some species.

Multi-annual plans are intended to minimise decision-making based on short-term interests and maximize the likelihood of sustainable fishing practices. The Baltic Sea MAP is the first of several plans to be considered under the reformed CFP. Similar plans for fishing in the North Sea and the Atlantic Ocean west of Scotland and Ireland will follow shortly.

What we learned from the Baltic MAP negotiation process is that it is imperative that Parliament continues to defend the key CFP objectives. To facilitate this, the Commission must offer unequivocally clear proposals that include impact assessments showing how proposed fishing mortality rates will end overfishing and rebuild fish stocks in line with the CFP.

Andrew Clayton directs Pew’s efforts to end overfishing in north-western Europe.

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