On 14 May EU's agriculture and fisheries ministers continued the debate on Europe's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform, this time focusing on how to achieve the "maximum sustainable yield" (MSY) – the largest average catch that can continuously be taken from a fish stock without jeopardising that stock's reproduction. The EU has an international obligation to meet this requirement by 2015.
Managing fisheries according to MSY should ensure the recovery of the EU fish stocks (around 82 % of Mediterranean stocks and 36 % of Atlantic stocks are currently overfished) and contribute to making ecosystems healthier. It should also improve the social and economic conditions of fishermen in the long run, providing bigger catches, higher profit margins and returns on investment.
"We have a very significant responsibility on our shoulders – it is not only just fish and fishermen today and tomorrow. We are really talking about the sustainability for the future and for future generations," said Mette Gjerskov, Danish minister for food, agriculture and fisheries, who chaired the meeting.
All member states agree on the use of MSY to ensure sustainability of the fish stocks. The main difficulties, in their opinion, lie with the practical implementation of this goal.
Ministers share the view that in order to establish realistic MSY targets, the most immediate task is to obtain enough reliable scientific data, which currently is often insufficient, and especially on mixed fisheries where several species are fished.
Some member states believe that the deadline – 2015 – is too short to implement MSY targets for stocks on which scientific information is missing. They would prefer a more gradual pace, also to avoid any excessively brusque adjustments in the fishing industry. The Council largely agrees with the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki that there should be a clear deadline, and several delegates proposed the year 2020 for completing implementation.
"We, as Europe, as the EU, have an obligation. … We must be able to promise the world that there will be a limit. And to promise it to ourselves. It is difficult, but it has to be done," said minister Gjerskov.
Another major question is how to implement usefully the MSY in the mixed and multispecies fisheries, i.e. how to allow catches of healthy stocks and at the same time not endanger the most vulnerable ones in the same fishery resource.
Many member states believe that taking the most vulnerable species as a reference for a mixed fishery might not be the best way to achieve the desired outcome, and propose that MSY targets should be based on robust scientific data and advice. Other delegates proposed that, in addition, the use of selective gear or keeping certain areas closed could also help to achieve the MSY targets for several stocks at the same time.
The EU has so far managed to bring 20 of its stocks to the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) level, which resulted, according to Commissioner Damanaki, in additional income – a total of EUR 135 million in one year – for fishermen in the North and the Baltic seas.
Taking into consideration the member states' concerns, opinions and proposals, the Presidency will now draft a compromise text. The Council plans to reach a global agreement (the so-called "general approach") to be able to start negotiations with the European Parliament in June this year.
Press conference (video)
Minister's debate (video)
EU Common Fisheries Policy reform
Press release (pdf)