Proposed amendments to the Multiannual Fisheries Management Plans (MAPs) put fish stocks at risk

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23 Feb

Early December 2023, the European Commission proposed to modify the EU Multiannual fisheries management Plans (MAP), removing key safeguards for the sustainable management EU fish stocks. The European Parliament has recently rejected a request for an emergency procedure on this important matter and the European Anglers Alliance intends to firmly argue against the Commission’s proposal.


The multiannual management plans and the 5% rule

The regional Multiannual Plans (MAPs) saw the light with the 2013 CFP reform, their inclusion can be seen as “an important tool for fisheries management that helps to ensure the sustainable exploitation of fish stocksi” . Their key goal is to restore and maintain levels of commercially fished stocks above levels that can produce “maximal sustainable yield” (MSY) and reduce unwanted bycatches. Besides the regional approach, the MAPs were also adopted as a tool to better integrate the ecosystem-based approach in the management of fisheries, taking into account the interactions between stocks and trying to minimise negative impacts of fishing on the marine ecosystem.
 
The first MAP to be adopted was the Baltic Sea Multiannual Plan (MAP)ii , covering seven fish stocks of Herring, Cod and Sprat. In the MAP, EU legislators included a very important safety barrier under article 4.6 – the so-called 5% rule.
 

Fishing opportunities shall in any event be fixed in such a way as to ensure that there is less than a 5% probability of the spawning stock biomass falling below Blim.” (§4.6 in the MAP)

 
This safety measure entails that fishing quotas and TACs need to be set at a level that prevents fish stocks from falling below a certain crisis level – called ‘Blim’. However, when a stock does fall below this threshold, all fisheries should be – irrevocably – stopped under article 4.6.
 
In this proposal to amend the MAPs, the European Commission – in an attempt to rubber stamp questionable decisions taken by the Council of the EU in October 2023 concerning the 2024 TACs and quotas decisions for 2024 – argues that “applying the 5% rule could ‘have potentially severe socio-economic implications’”. Indeed, several stocks such as the central Baltic Herring and the Northern Baltic Herring have already fallen below the 5% ‘Blim’ level. The European Commission could therefore not set a legal advice for TACs for 2024 on these species. The Council of the EU – nevertheless – agreed on a TAC for this year ignoring the Commission’s proposal. The legality of the decision taken by the Council can be questioned as the agreed TAC is in violation of the MAP for these stocks in question. Charles Berkow of the Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre adds to this, “the short-term consequences must be weighed against the consequences if the stock is perennially depleted or crashes… A short-term reduction in catches can […] be seen as an investment in larger stocks and catches in the medium termiii” . A credo which the European Anglers have been advancing for many years.
 

A short-sighted approach to fisheries management

In sum, the Commission, with its proposal, forgets that article 4.6 of MAPs was adopted as a regulatory barrier to prevent overfishing that would cause the collapse of fish stocks. Also, the European Union’s objective, and the reason why the exclusive competence for fisheries management was devolved to the EU level was “the conservation of marine biological resources under the common fisheries policy” as stated in Art. 3.1d of the TFEU (and not ensuring the conservation of commercial fishing opportunities).
European Anglers are worried about the Commission’s proposal and underline that – if adopted – this will enhance the risk of the collapse of EU fish stocks. The losers of this will be “fishers, the associated industries, their communities and, most importantly, the marine environment.”, Berkow adds.
 

Next steps

While the European Parliament is heading towards the European elections in June, the Council tried to trigger an emergency procedure for the processing of the Commission’s proposal. Fortunately, the Parliament rejected the request to rush through the decision during its plenary session on 16 January. This means the file will now follow the normal legislative procedureiv  under which the assigned Parliamentary Committee on Fisheries (COM PECH) will treat the proposal as any other file. MEP Pierre Karleskind, Chair of the Committee, has been appointed Rapporteur.
 
EAA and EFTTA will argue against the Commission’s proposal, in the interest of European aquatic environments, EU fish stocks and for the socio-economic interests of all EU fisheries sectors. This must include anglers and the depending business that thrive on the sustainable, low-impact activities carried out by 25 million anglers.

Please find here EAA feedback & here EFTTA feedback given to the EU Commission.

Sources & more information

ANALYSIS: “Those are our rules, and if you don’t like them, well, we’ll make others” - Stockholm University Baltic Sea Centre (su.se)

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