May 24. 2024. 5:08

The Daily

Read the World Today

Stalemate over misreported catches persists in fisheries control revision 

EU lawmakers seem closer to an agreement on the most significant overhaul of EU’s fisheries monitoring rules in a decade despite the Commission’s opposition to relaxing rules on misreporting fish catches.

The interinstitutional negotiations – known as ‘trilogue’ in EU jargon – between the Council and the European Parliament on revising the fisheries control system are about to glide into port as EU lawmakers aim to reach a final agreement in May.

Despite some expecting Wednesday’s (8 March) evening meeting – the 11th since negotiations started – to be the last round of talks, it resulted in a stalemate.

Clara Aguilera, Spanish socialist MEP and main negotiator for the European Parliament, told EURACTIV after the meeting that, even though there was no agreement yet, they all “see the light at the end of the tunnel”.

The parts working on the dossier share the impression that the next meeting, scheduled for 30 May, could be the decisive one for revising the system of monitoring, inspection, and enforcement for fishing operations in EU waters and the EU fleet globally, which entered into force in 2010.

The Commission’s proposal to modernise the system was presented in May 2018 and included some new features such as electronic tracking systems, digitised recording of catches and rules for recreational fishers.

However, lawmakers are still discussing a set of common amendments to the Commission’s proposal, which represents the largest overhaul of fisheries legislation in a decade.

Pressure on EU to sanction Chinese fisheries mounts

Wake-up calls are pilling up at the Commission’s door asking to enforce EU rules on China over illegal fishing and human rights abuses.

Tolerance for misreporting

The margin of tolerance – or the allowable amount of misreported catches – has become the main bone of contention.

Under the current EU regulation, fishing vessels have a margin of tolerance of 10% per species – meaning that a ship can misreport up to 10% of the weight of each specie retained on board.

While the Parliament initially opened the door to increase the percentage of error in the fishing logbooks to 25% for tuna species with an amendment tabled by the socialist group, Aguilera said that “it is not on the table anymore”.

“There are already some changes about that because we are promoting a rapprochement between the Council and the Parliament,” she commented about a preparatory document dated 7 March and seen by EURACTIV.

According to the document, the Commission rejected another proposal agreed upon by the Parliament and the Council to apply the 10% margin of tolerance to all species combined, instead of by specie, for small pelagic and mixed fisheries as well as in the case of species ‘morphologically similar’ – which includes endangered tropical tunas.

Backsliding on protections?

For Green MEP and shadow rapporteur Grace O’Sullivan, loosening the rules for tropical tuna, “will only benefit large industrial fleets, to the detriment of small-scale fishers at home and abroad”.

“We have plenty of examples, such as in the Baltic, where rules were relaxed and it was disastrous for stock levels and the sustainability of EU fishing,” she said.

Likewise, NGOs have repeatedly warned that allowing interchangeable reporting of different species would hasten the collapse of already overfished species, like the yellowfin tuna in the Indian Ocean.

“This would seriously undermine the EU’s hard-earned international credibility in the fight against illegal fishing,” added Steve Trent, CEO and founder of the NGO Environmental Justice Foundation.

“How can the EU credibly call on foreign fleets to be more transparent and regulated when it backslides on its own regulations?” he asked.

The EU fishing sector association Europeche, on the other hand, had stated that similar target tuna species “cannot easily be distinguished from each other in such a short time” and that technical solutions “will still take several years to develop.”

“It is not a whim,” Aguilera reaffirmed, “but there are recognized technical problems of species identification” and making ‘mistakes’ has “serious repercussions” for the fleet.

High Seas Treaty

The debate over misreported catches comes in the aftermath of the High Seas Treaty – a historic deal struck last weekend by United Nations member states, including the EU, to protect international waters from threats to biodiversity such as overfishing.

The EU executive has already warned that the whole reform may be withdrawn if lawmakers insist on loosening the rules around the recording of catches.

According to EU sources close to the file, the Commission hinted last May at the possibility of even withdrawing its proposal if lawmakers agree on a new set of rules that could be considered a step back from what is provided in the current regulation.

However, such an eventuality remains theoretical as the chances for the Commission to withdraw a proposal in an advanced stage of negotiations should be extremely limited and exercised in a reasoned manner according to the case law of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as it is considered an interference in the legislative process.