EU fisheries control: “More efforts needed”, says Court of Auditors

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15 Jun

“Has the EU an effective fisheries control system in place?” The EU’s Court of Auditors has answered this question in a new report. They found that the Member States and the Commission have made progress in several areas since the last audit ten years ago.

“However, we found that due to significant weaknesses in most audited areas, the European Union did not yet have a sufficiently effective system for fisheries controls in place to support the success of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP)”. Many stocks are still overfished. In particular in the Mediterranean, where 93% of the stocks assessed are overfished. “Continued efforts are necessary to manage fisheries effectively”, the authors conclude. 

In order to prepare the report, the auditors have visited and inspected four Member States: Spain, France, Italy and the UK (Scotland). These states hold more than half of the EU fishing fleet and catch almost half of the total EU catches. 

EAA and EFTTA warmly welcome this report. It shows clearly, among other things, that more data and better control of the small scale commercial sector (in this report: all vessels < 15 meters) are needed everywhere, and in particular in the Mediterranean Sea. 

The shortcomings:

Fishing vessels, fleet:
● Some Member States do not sufficiently verify the accuracy of their fleets' capacity and of the information on the vessels in the fleet register.
● Have not yet performed the required verifications of engine power.
● Show discrepancies between the vessel details recorded in the fleet register and those contained in the supporting documents.

Transparency, catches and environmental impact:
● The Member States vessel monitoring systems (VMS) using satellite-based tracking technology provide powerful information for monitoring and controlling fishing activities. However, as a result of the application of the rules of the Control Regulation 89 % of the EU fleet were not monitored by VMS, which hindered effective fisheries management in some fisheries and for some species.
● Some Member State authorities allow producer organisations to manage quota distribution, however:
- they did not always know which criteria were used to distribute the quotas to each of the beneficiaries, which makes it difficult for Member States to know the actual beneficiaries of fishing opportunities and therefore to assess any potential adverse impact on the environment and local economies, and take the necessary corrective measures where appropriate.
- This lack of transparency increases the risk that specific interests of certain economic operators are favoured at the expense of others.
- It was difficult to monitor compliance with fisheries management measures, especially for vessels not linked to satellite-based vessel monitoring systems.

The authors did, however, see examples of good practice where professional fisheries organisations required their members to comply with additional, but more focused, conservation measures to those required by the Common Fisheries Policy. 
● Data on fishing activities collected in the framework of the Control Regulation are not sufficiently complete and reliable:
- Catch data for vessels making paper-based declarations, which represent a significant portion of the EU fleet, was incomplete, and often incorrectly recorded on the Member States’ databases.
- Significant discrepancies between declared landings and subsequent records of first sale.
- Two of the four Member States visited did not sufficiently share and trace information concerning activities of vessels from one flag Member State in another.
- Member States’ data validation processes were insufficient.
- Significant differences between the overall catch data recorded by the Member States, and that available to the Commission.

The Control Regulation requires Member States to send aggregated catch data by stock. However, the fact that it does not require reporting with detail of fishing areas, size of vessels and fishing gears, limits detailed analysis of the European fleet activity.

Fisheries inspections: 

● In general, the Member States visited planned and carried out fisheries inspections well, however:
- Inspectors did not have real-time access to information about vessels, which reduce the effectiveness of inspections.
- Member States had established standardized inspection procedures, but in some cases available report templates had not been used by inspectors.
- The inspection results were not always correctly reported in the national databases. - Sanctions applied were not always dissuasive.
- The points system, one of the main innovations of the current control regulation intending to ensure equal treatment of fishing operators, was applied to very different extents across Member States, and even within the same Member State.

There is currently no European register of infringements and sanctions, which would allow a better follow-up of points applied, a more effective risk analysis and enhanced transparency among Member States.

The recommendations to the Commission and Member States by the auditors:
The recommendations aim at improving the reliability of information on fishing fleets, the monitoring of fisheries management measures, the reliability of fisheries data, and inspections and sanctions.

Recommendation 1 – Improving the reliability of information on fishing fleets
In order to improve the accuracy of information of fishing capacity, the Member States should, by 2018: 
(a) establish procedures to verify the accuracy of the information recorded in their national fleet registers;
In the context of any future amendment to the Control Regulation, and in order to improve the accuracy of information of fishing capacity, we recommend the Commission to include in its legislative proposal
(b) detailed rules for the regular documentary and on-the-spot verifications of both gross tonnage (GT) and engine power (kW) indicators used to calculate fishing capacity.

Recommendation 2 – Improving the monitoring of fisheries management measures
In the context of any future amendment to the Control Regulation, and in order to improve the monitoring of activities of small fishing vessels, we recommend the Commission to include in its legislative proposal: 
(a) the removal of the VMS exemptions for vessels between 12 and 15 metres long;
(b) the requirement for the installation of smaller and cheaper localisation systems for vessels under 12 metres long.
In order to ensure the transparency of the distribution of fishing quotas, the Member States should, by 2019
(c) inform the Commission of their quota allocation system in line with Article 16 of the CFP regulation, including how the transparent and objective criteria have been incorporated in the distribution of fishing quotas among stakeholders.

Recommendation 3 – Improving the reliability of fisheries data
1. In order to improve the completeness and reliability of fisheries data, the Member States should, by 2019:  
(a) review and improve the process for recording and verification of paper based data of fishing activities;
(b) ensure that they have reliable data on the activity of vessels under 10 metres long, and that they apply the rules established by the fisheries Control Regulation to collect them;
(c) complete the validation and cross checking of fisheries activities data.
The Commission should, by 2020
(d) establish an information exchange platform to be used by the Member States to send validated data in standard formats and contents, so that the information available to the different Commission services matches with the Member States data;
(e) promote the development of a cheaper, simpler and user friendly system to facilitate the electronic communication of fishing activities for vessels less than 12 metres long;
(f) analyse the remaining problems in data completeness and reliability at Member State level and decide appropriate actions with Member States where necessary.
2. In the context of any future amendment to the Control Regulation, and in order to improve the completeness and reliability of fisheries data, we recommend the Commission to include in its legislative proposal
(g) the removal of the Electronic Reporting System and electronic declaration exemptions for vessels between 12 and 15 metres long or the consideration of alternative solutions;
(h) review the catch data reporting obligations of the Member States under Control Regulation, in order to include the details of fishing area, size of vessels and fishing gear.
Recommendation 4 – Improving inspections and sanctions
1. In order to improve the inspections, the Member States should, by 2019
(a) when the new Regulation on technical measures will enter into force, develop, in consultation with the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA), and use standard inspection protocols and reports more adapted to the specific regional and technical conditions of the fisheries than those provided under Annex XXVII of the Regulation 404/2011;
In the context of any future amendment to the Control Regulation, we recommend the Commission to include in its legislative proposal
(b) the mandatory use of the Electronic Inspection report System by the Member States in order to ensure the exhaustiveness and updating of their national inspection results and to share the results of inspections with other Member States concerned.
2. In order to ensure the effectiveness of the system of sanctions, the Member States should, by 2019
(c) take due account of recurrent infringements or persistent offenders when setting sanctions;
(d) in order to ensure a level playing field for operators, fully implement the point systems and ensure its consistent application in their respective territories.
In the context of any future amendment to the Control Regulation, we recommend the Commission to include in its legislative proposal
(e) a provision foreseeing a system to exchange data on infringements and sanctions in cooperation with EFCA and the Member States.

In a recent report the European Commission has mentioned some of the same shortcomings highlighted by the auditors. More information about this report is available here

The full Court of Auditors' report is available for download here
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