Whose fish is it anyway? Whose interests? Reply of the European Commission on what a non-discriminatory approach to recreational fisheries means

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04 Sep

Three Members of the European Parliament asked the European Commission about limits applicable to recreational fisheries under the Western Waters and Western Mediterranean Multiannual Management Plans. The answer provided by the Commissioner for Environment, Fisheries and Ocean fails to acknowledge the need for more solid data not only on the environmental, but also on economic and social impact of the recreational fisheries sector, in order to make sound and non-discriminatory fisheries management decisions.

According to the two multiannual management plans adopted in 2019, the Council of the European Union may set non-discriminatory limits for recreational fishers, based on the proposals made by the European Commission. It is in this context that the bag limits for seabass are adopted by the European Union. 
MEPs Niclas Herbst (Germany, EPP Group), Manuel Pizarro (Portugal, S&D Group) and Søren Gade (Denmark, Renew Europe Group) asked the European Commission and the Council on their interpretation of “non-discriminatory” and asked whether the Commission considers to have sufficient data on recreational fisheries in order to set these limits based on “transparent and objective criteria, including those of environmental, social and economic nature”. The multiannual management plans regulations include the following precision: “The criteria used may include, in particular, the impact of recreational fishing on the environment, the societal importance of that activity and its contribution to the economy in coastal areas”. 

The Commission’s reply refers to the work of the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and its Working Group on Recreational Fisheries Survey, which indeed plays a key role in summarising and ensuring the quality of data collected by EU countries. The reply also includes a particularly revealing footnote: limits to recreational fisheries were adopted “considering the environmental, social and economic circumstances – especially the dependency of commercial fishermen on those stocks in coastal communities”. This clearly shows or recalls that the Commission’s approach is to give prevalence to commercial fisheries’ interests in the access to fish stocks. However, fish stocks are, in principle, a common resource, a “public good”. It should therefore not be for the Commission to prioritise or ‘positively discriminate’ one group of EU citizens over another when it comes to access to fish. 

The decisions to limit catches from recreational fisheries could be taken in the interest of coastal communities rather than in the interest of commercial fishers or recreational fishers’, if they were made on the basis of comprehensive data: 
-On the environmental impact of recreational fisheries,
-On the environmental impact of commercial fisheries,
-On the socio-economic value of commercials fisheries, and
-on the economic and social value of recreational fisheries. 
For some species and geographic regions, it has been shown that catches from recreational fisheries can generate largely higher economic added value that the commercial catches, given the spending of anglers in fishing tackle, boat renting, accommodation, and restaurants etc. In a recent study undertaken in Catalonia, it is estimated that catches from recreational fishers represent 5% of total catches. Nevertheless, the recreational fisheries sector generates almost as much economic value as the commercial sector does: 90 million euros per year, which equals 86.8% of the commercial sector’s value. That is without counting the social benefits. 
As long as data on recreational fisheries will be incomplete, and as long as the recreational fisheries sector is not fairly and properly included in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy on an equal footing with the commercial fisheries and aquaculture, a fair and sound management, in the interest of coastal communities, will not be achieved. 
The EAA will therefore continue to call: 

-for the EU to regularly conduct a pan-European study on recreational fisheries’ impact, , following the example set by the United States,
-for the full inclusion of the recreational angling sector in a CFP that will be fairer, more balanced and less discriminatory.
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