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Improving decision-making in Community fisheries management

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Improving decision-making in Community fisheries management

This Communication proposes a number of major changes to the way in which the annual Council Regulation on fishing opportunities is prepared. The aim is to ensure the broad involvement of stakeholders at all stages of policy, from conception to implementation.


Commission Communication to the Council and European Parliament of 24 May 2006: "Improving consultation on Community fisheries management" [COM(2006) 246 final - not published in the Official Journal].


The Commission would like to change the timing of the decisions taken on fishing opportunities. The changes are designed to organise consultation earlier to improve the quality of decision-making.

The advisory and management system for fisheries was devised at the inception of the common fisheries policy in the early 1980s.

The Council Regulation laying down the total allowable catches (TACs) and quotas available to the Member States is based on a proposal from the Commission. Up to now, that proposal has always been submitted very late in the year to allow the latest scientific and technical information to be taken into account for laying down the fishing opportunities. The timing of the procedure leaves very little time for consulting stakeholders.

Current procedure

Decisions on fisheries management are taken according to an annual timetable for laying down the fishing opportunities for the Member States and other stakeholders. For most demersal species the timetable is as follows:

  • in September the latest scientific surveys are completed and the data analysed on board the research vessels;
  • in October the scientific data are presented to the Advisory Committee for Fisheries Management of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), which forwards its advice to the European Commission, Norway, Iceland and the North East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC);
  • in November the Commission analyses the scientific advice and consults, among others, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) and stakeholders. Negotiations on jointly managed stocks take place with Norway and the other coastal states;
  • in December the Commission adopts its proposal for a fishing opportunities Regulation for adoption by the Council.

This leaves only a very short time for effective and constructive consultation of the fisheries sector. Fisheries management decisions could be better prepared and the scope of the consultations widened.

Optimum use of the harvest rules

The Commission feels that preparation of fisheries management decisions could be improved by applying a management method based on "harvest rules" for determining the decisions on the TACs.

Such harvest rules could include:

  • the variation of the TACs from one year to the next;
  • a reduction of the fishing mortality rate to a sustainable level;
  • adjusting fishing effort (days at sea) in line with fishing mortality rates (the proportion of the fish in the sea that are caught during the year).

Ideally, these rules would be laid down in Council Regulations and would be updated only infrequently. They would cover the main fisheries and fish stocks governed by the common fisheries policy. Such an approach would leave more time for consulting stakeholders on the management principles while the scientific estimates of the precise quantities of fish available are finalised by ICES and the STECF.

For stocks not covered by a long-term plan, the Commission could present its intentions for setting the TACs for the following year as early as April. Based on the trends suggested by the scientific advice from the previous year, this policy statement would set out:

  • a commitment to gradually develop stocks to the most appropriate levels to ensure their sustainable exploitation while providing high yields;
  • TACs and effort levels for the following year to be set in accordance with the rules in recovery plans or long-term management plans, where they exist, or with the principle that fishing mortality should not be increased in any stock where mortality exceeds the level that would lead to high long-term yields;
  • that stocks at similar levels of exploitation or depletion are to be treated similarly;
  • rules on TAC variation, subject to special circumstances that might require more significant change for particular stocks.

On the basis of this policy statement, the Commission would consult the Member States and the Regional Advisory Councils (RACs) during the summer. Stakeholders would have a more strategic role in the fisheries discussions before the Council delivered its opinion, in October, on the strategy proposed by the Commission.

Changing the timing

This new approach calls for a change in the timing of the fishing opportunities decisions.

The Commission has already consulted ICES and the STECF on the timing of the scientific advice, asking whether it could be provided slightly earlier in the year from 2007 onwards. Though providing scientific advice earlier will make the forecasts less precise in some cases, the Commission thinks this would be acceptable.

To change the timing of decisions, the Commission proposes a two-step approach, distinguishing between those fish stocks for which scientific advice on available quantities is available in June and those which are heavily dependent on annual recruitment, i.e. the quantity of juveniles joining the particular stock, which include species that are of major commercial interest and are biologically vulnerable. The proposed timetable is as follows:

  • the first step would be between June and October. ICES and the STECF issue scientific advice on the "June advice" stocks. The Commission presents a proposal for a fishing opportunities Regulation for the "June advice" stocks at the beginning of September following negotiations with the RACs. The Council adopts the TACs for the "June advice" stocks in October;
  • the second step would be between October and December. In this case, the proposed timetable would not be much different from the present timetable. ICES finalises its advice in autumn (possibly as early as September from 2007 onwards) on the "October advice" stocks, which are largely dependent on annual recruitment. The Commission presents its proposal, which does not contain any surprises for stakeholders, in November. The consultations with the fishing sector will already have taken place earlier in the year on the basis of the Commission's policy statement on stocks not covered by a long-term plan. In December the Council then adopts a fishing opportunities Regulation covering the "October advice" stocks.

The current Community rules are to be re-examined as part of the planned review of the cod recovery plan. Therefore the Commission thinks it should wait until 2007 before proposing a new Regulation on these rules.

Last updated: 14.02.2008