Brian O’Riordan, ICSF

Should policies for small-scale fisheries be decided nationally or at European level, and should the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) concern itself with the management of this sector?

In its April 2009 Green Paper on CFP Reform, DG Mare suggested that the CFP could play a role in both. Most Member States (MS) did not support the differentiated management regimes suggested, however the reformed CFP is potentially of great significance for small scale fisheries.

ICSF CFP reform

In the small-scale fishery chain there are direct linkages with high tech processing and marketing industries associated with large retail outlets, as well as with small-scale artisenal processing, marketing and retail secctors. Photo courtesy of Lonxanet Foundation, Galicia, Spain

Specifically, the CFP could go a long way to ensuring or otherwise securing fair access for small-scale fisheries to fishery resources and grounds; to trading and market opportunities; to resources for supporting the sector – finance, information, infrastructure; and to policy decision-taking and management related processes.

Political will

The reformed CFP however on its own can do very little for small-scale fisheries unless there is political will at MS level to support, develop, or otherwise address problems and needs of the sector.

Likewise, small-scale fishery operators need to get better organised, and/or become affiliated to organisations that are recognised at national and EU level to reap any benefits from the reformed CFP. Or in the words of one commentator:

“The challenge is how to distil the diversity of opinions of what needs to be done and then to ensure that the voice (of small-scale operators) is carried up the chain (to the decision-taking level) without being snuffed out.”


On access to resources, the reformed CFP leaves it up to MS to decide how fishing opportunities may be allocated to vessels flying its flag (Article 16). But an important amendment to this article states:

‘When allocating fishing opportunities, MS shall use transparent and objective criteria including those of an environmental, social and economic nature’ and that ‘criteria may include, inter alia: environmental impact of fishing; history of compliance; contribution to local economy; and historic catch levels.’

It further says: ‘MS shall endeavour to provide incentives to: deploy selective fishing gears or use fishing techniques with reduced environmental impact.

A recent ‘historic’ High Court ruling in the UK backed the Government’s decision to redistribute unused quota from Producer Organizstions (POs) to under-10 metre vessels. In this context, the use of transparent and objective criteria of an environmental, social and economic nature by MS to allocate fishing opportunities could bring huge benefits to the small-scale sector across Europe by redistributing quota. But we will only see such benefits accruing to small-scale fisheries, if there is political will at MS level to do so.

The 12-mile derogation is to be continued, and in its preamble (para 14), the new regulation states:

‘MS should endeavour to give preferential access for small-scale, artisanal or coastal fishermen to this zone.’ This however needs to be seen in the light of developments in the 12-mile for establishing conservation zones, for power generation (wind farms etc), and for the development of aquaculture and other activities that compete with small-scale fisheries for access.

Access to markets

In terms of access to markets, the draft CMO provides for a much greater role to be taken on by POs, and for increasing their funding. The CMO also notes that measures should be taken ‘to encourage the appropriate and representative participation of small-scale producers’ and for the ‘specific situation of small-scale producers’ to ‘be taken into account for the establishment of fishery and aquaculture producer organisations, where relevant.

Hence the need for small-scale operators to get better organised or to associate themselves with existing PO structures.

With the possible exception of ‘production method’ listed under mandatory consumer information however, original proposals for mandatory information on the labelling of products have been watered down. For example, the date of catch and date of landing are now included under additional voluntary information that may be included on the label.

Fisheries support

Last but not least, the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) has considerable scope for supporting small-scale fishing operations, which are defined as being carried out on vessels under 12 metres in length and not using towed gears.

The plenary of the European Parliament (EP) still has to vote on the proposals made by the EP Fisheries Committee (PECHE Committee) and the Council of Ministers, and much depends on the outcome. The PECHE Committee voted by a slim majority to allocate funding for fleet renewal and engine replacement for small-scale vessels.

The Council of Ministers wants to see a greater allocation of funding to the outermost regions (French Indian Ocean and Caribbean territories, the Canary Islands, Azores and Madeira). The Ministers also backed DG Mare’s proposal to use new criteria to allocate the EMFF. These include employment and production in the fisheries and aquaculture sectors and the share of small-scale coastal fishing in the fishing fleet.

Based on these criteria, the Spanish Fisheries Minister announced that Spain is set to receive up to 22% of the €5,500m available for fisheries sector support. For their part, the French have declared themselves to be ‘very satisfied’ with the allocation to the outermost regions. Not everyone is happy with the EMFF outcome however. After the vote in the European Parliament, Markus Knigge of Ocean2012 accused the PECHE Committee of voting to ‘misuse taxpayers’ money by financing overfishing’.

Past experience has shown that these public monies have gone to finance private profit rather than the common good, with some of the largest vessel owners and most notorious fisheries criminals receiving huge pay outs. It is to be hoped that the new EMFF will achieve better and fairer results.