The European Court of Auditors, evaluating whether EU measures have contributed to adapting the capacity of EU fishing fleets to available fishing opportunities concluded that current measures have “failed” mostly blaming the ongoing overcapacity of the fishing fleet.
“Overcapacity of the fishing fleet continues to be one of the main reasons for the failure of the CFP in assuring a sustainable fishing activity. Although the reduction of fishing overcapacity has been a recurrent theme in previous reforms of the CFP, current measures have failed. This indicates that either a new approach to tackling the problem needs to be adopted, and/or existing measures have to be better enforced”, said the EU Court in its report to the European Commission.
The European Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said that the Court of Auditors report “reinforces my conviction that business as usual is not an option. We need new ideas. In our proposals for a new Common Fisheries Policy we want to break with the past. We are addressing overcapacity through a system of tradeable fishing concessions at national level and with safeguards to avoid concentration of ownership. In the new financial instrument, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, we propose to no longer finance scrapping of vessels, but instead spend the money on projects which will make a real difference.”
The Court report indicates that the CFP does not have adequate rules for key issues related to overcapacity of the fishing fleet:
(a) given constant technological developments, the existing definitions of fishing capacity no longer adequately reflect the ability of fishing vessels to catch fish;
(b) ceilings do not impose real restrictions on fishing fleet capacity ;
(c) although the alignment of fishing capacity to fishing opportunities is one of the cornerstones of the CFP and the EFF, fishing overcapacity has not been defined or quantified. This complicates the design of measures to reduce it and makes it difficult to assess the performance of those measures at Member State level;
(d) there are not sufficiently clear rules for the treatment (cancellation/transfer/sale) of fishing rights when fishing vessels are scrapped with public aid. Furthermore, the role of fishing rights in aligning fishing capacity to fishing opportunities is not specified by the regulations.
Have EU measures contributed to adapting the capacity of the fishing fleets to available fishing opportunities?
Member States have not fulfilled their obligation under the CFP of putting in place effective measures to match fishing capacity to fishing opportunities, and the Commission’s monitoring and supervision of the Member States did not prevent significant implementation problems.
The design of some measures is also unsatisfactory.
(a) There were delays in implementing EFF-funded projects and in setting up management and control systems.
(b) Fishing effort adjustment plans did not provide a sound basis to adapt the capacity of fishing fleets to available fishing opportunities.
(c) Four of the seven Member States examined in the audit had set inadequate targets for reducing capacity. This increases the risk that fishing fleet overcapacity is not adequately targeted for reduction.
(d) Subsidised investment on board fishing vessels may in practice increase their ability to catch fish.
(e) The fishing fleet register was not correctly updated with details of fishing vessels scrapped with public aid. This overstated the fishing fleet capacity ceilings.
(f) The eligibility and selection criteria for fishing vessel decommissioning schemes were not well targeted. This resulted in scrapping fishing vessels which had little if any impact on the targeted fish stocks.
(g) The public aid rates used for decommissioning fishing vessels generally did not take into account their cost effectiveness on the basis of sufficient objective criteria.
(h) The application of the ‘fuel crisis regulation’ had not obtained the required fishing fleet capacity reductions.
(i) The rules under which Member States report on their efforts to balance fishing capacity with fishing opportunities are inadequate and lack clarity. This is one of the reasons for the incomplete and inadequate reporting by most Member States, with the consequence that it is impossible to derive conclusions regarding fishing overcapacity.
As to the recommendations to reduce overcapacity of the fishing fleet from the Court of Auditors the Commission should take the necessary initiatives, including considering whether amendments to the basic regulations are necessary, in order to:
(a) better define fishing capacity and overcapacity and consider more relevant robust measures to facilitate actions to balance fishing capacity with fishing opportunities;
(b) set effective limits for fishing fleet capacity;
(c) ensure that the design and implementation of FEAPs effectively target required reductions in fishing effort;
(d) clarify how fishing rights should be treated when decommissioning fishing vessels with public aid;
(e) clarify whether fishing right transfer schemes have a role in reducing fishing overcapacity;
(f) establish whether the scheme of public aid for on-board investments needs to be reconsidered in light of the difficulties in avoiding investments which increase fishing ability and, if the scheme is to continue, clarify which investments on board are eligible for public aid and which are not;
(g) place unambiguous obligations on Member States to ensure that the fleet register is correctly updated, and that reports on their efforts to balance fishing capacity with fishing opportunities provide the required information and are of suitable quality.
When implementing CFP measures related to adapting the fishing capacity of their fishing fleets to available fishing resources, Member States should:
(a) take corrective action to eliminate delays in implementation of the EFF;
(b) ensure that any measures to aid investments on board are strictly applied and do not increase fishing ability;
(c) ensure that the fishing fleet register is kept up to date;
(d) ensure that selection criteria for fishing vessel decommissioning schemes are designed to have a positive impact on the sustainability of the targeted fish stocks and avoid providing public aid for decommissioning inactive fishing vessels;
(e) ensure that public aid rates for decommissioned fishing vessels take into account their cost effectiveness on the basis of sufficient objective criteria;
(f) use the Commission’s guidelines when producing annual reports on their efforts to achieve a sustainable balance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities and give reasoned conclusions on the state of that balance.