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Oceans and fisheries
Supplementary information30 May 2018Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries10 min read

Questions and answers – revision of the EU fisheries control system

The European Commission is proposing improvements to modernise and simplify the way in which fishing rules are monitored and complied with in the EU. An effective control system is key to ensuring that the EU's fisheries are sustainably managed, which in turn guarantees the long-term viability of the EU fishing sector and protects the livelihoods of our fishermen.

1. What is the purpose of a Fisheries Control System?

The objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) for healthy fish stocks and eco-systems, a profitable industry, viable coastal communities and food security can only be achieved, if Member States and the EU as a whole have a proper control and enforcement system in place. This should ensure that reliable, accurate and complete fisheries data are supplied on time, that Member States have the full control of their fleet, that measures are in place to allow effective controls of fisheries products in the supply chain and that ultimately a widespread culture of compliance allows fishing operators to compete fairly.

A first-rate control and enforcement system is also essential for the sake of the reputation of the EU fleet and of the EU as a whole globally. As a global ocean actor and the world's fifth largest producer of seafood, the European Union has a compelling responsibility to protect, conserve and sustainably use the oceans and their resources. This is only possible if appropriate control rules exist and are correctly implemented and enforced.

2. Why revising the Fisheries Control System?

A recent Commission REFIT evaluation, a special report of the European Court of Auditors and a Resolution by the European Parliament have all shown that the Fisheries Control System dating back to 2009 had its deficiencies and was overall not fit for purpose.

If the control system does not perform well, the compliance with the CFP is at risk and with it also the long-term sustainability not only of fish stocks, but of the entire fishery industry.

3. Which were the main shortcomings identified with the current system?

First of all, the current system was designed prior to the reformed CFP and as such it is not coherent with it. Notably, the 'landing obligation' introduced by the reformed CFP, requiring fishermen to phase out the wasteful practice of discards at sea, has not yet been complemented by corresponding EU measures to ensure its control and enforcement. The lack of effective control provisions on this essential pillar of the CFP is putting at risk the effective implementation of the whole EU Fisheries Policy.

Secondly, the current Fishery Control System reflects control strategies, methodologies and challenges of more than 10 years ago, and it is not equipped to effectively address current and future needs in terms of fisheries data and fleet control, to match the constant evolution of fishing practices and techniques. It also does not provide the necessary flexibility to take advantage of modern and more cost-effective control technologies and data exchange systems.

Last but not least, the current system does not effectively promote a culture of compliance and significant loopholes have emerged in the implementation of current enforcement rules, which warrant their revision.

4. Why not focussing on the full implementation of the current rules, rather than changing them?

There is no contradiction between these two objectives. The Commission will continue to push for the implementation of the existing legislation by the Member States and operators within the fishing industry. Ensuring compliance with the rules of the CFP is a top priority for the Commission.

At the same time, the Fisheries Control System needs alignment with the reformed CFP and several shortcomings have been identified in recent reports by the Commission, by the European Court of Auditors and by the European Parliament.

5. Why does the proposal of the Commission change so many provisions of the Control Regulation?

There are three main reasons for the important scope of the amendments:

  1. The proposal modernises the system to record and report fishing activities. The system becomes fully electronic, irrespective of the vessels' size. This has repercussions on large number of provisions throughout the text.
  2. A coherent set of rules on inspections, surveillance and enforcement is proposed. This concerns all Articles in Title VII and Title VIII of Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 (Control Regulation).
  3. The powers conferred to the Commission under the Control Regulation were aligned with Articles 290 and 291 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. This entailed amending 54 Articles of the Control Regulation.

6. In how far is the use of new technologies promoted?

The use of new technologies alleviates administrative burden for Member States and for fisheries operators. It allows easier communication between Member States and with the Commission. It has proved of paramount importance for an efficient and effective control system.

This is why the Commission is proposing that fisheries data recording and transmission will have to be done electronically, by phasing out paper-based provisions, which are burdensome, inefficient and prone to mistakes.
The use of new technologies is promoted for a broad range of activities, from catch registration, to tracking of vessels, control of fishing capacity and of the landing obligation, as well as for communication of fisheries data.

The proposal remains however, technologically neutral, insofar as it avoids prescribing the use of any specific technology. Specific applications will need to be tailored to the different needs and actors keeping in mind that interoperability is necessary.

7. Will the new set of rules make control, inspection and enforcement tasks easier for competent authorities?

Yes. The rules are simpler, more straightforward and with fewer derogation. This makes the tasks of control authorities easier and more effective.

The new technological tools will ease access to catch data, data on the position of fishing vessels and to data of operators in the supply chain, such as buyers of fishery products.

The provisions are made clearer and more straightforward, thus reducing the risk of different interpretations and implementation, which is detrimental for the equal treatment of operators across the EU. This is especially the case concerning provisions on infringements and sanctions. As a result, the enforcement will be easier for Member States.

8. What does it change for small scale vessels?

Small scales fisheries in general refer to fishing vessels below 12m and play an important role in the Union, from a biological, economic and social perspective. Due to their possible impact on resources/stocks, it is important to ensure that fishing activities and fishing efforts of those smaller vessels are in compliance with the rules of the CFP.

For this purpose it is necessary to monitor those vessels. Member States should be able to track all fishing vessels, including smaller fishing vessels. For the smaller vessels it is nowadays possible to use mobile and other type of tracking devices, which are affordable and easy to use. Also, all catches should be accounted for and reported electronically, irrespective of the vessel's size and of the amount of fish caught.

Paper-based reporting will therefore be phased out and current derogations removed. It is estimated that the current derogation not to report catches below 50 kg could leave unaccounted for up to 350,000 t of fish, corresponding to 6% of currently reported catches by EU fishing vessels.

9. What is the link between this proposal and the European Strategy for Plastics?

The European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy aims at limiting plastic litter and better recycling it. Fishing gears lost or abandoned at sea are one of the sources of marine litter, and through the Strategy the European Commission has committed to developing measures for reducing the loss or abandonment of fishing gear at sea. The Control Regulation improves the rules on gear retrieval.

10. What are the changes proposed as regards lost fishing gears?

The reporting of lost fishing gear will be easier and systematic. Reporting of the loss of fishing gears will be done through the so-called fishing logbook, which will be submitted electronically to the competent authorities. Since the loss of fishing gear can concern any category of fishing vessels, irrespective of its size, the reporting via the logbook will have to be done by all categories of vessels. All vessels will also have to carry on board the equipment necessary for the retrieval of lost gear.

11. What measures are proposed to control the landing obligation?

The landing obligation is a important requirement under the CFP, but difficult to control. The level of proof required to prosecute beyond reasonable doubt illegal discard of fish at sea is practically impossible to obtain using traditional means of control, such as aerial surveillance, inspections at sea or inspections at landing.
Remote electronic monitoring technology (REM) incorporating closed-circuit television (CCTV) have demonstrated the potential to be an effective means to ensure control and enforcement of the landing obligation and provide a deterrent to illegal discarding.

The Commission is therefore proposing that certain vessels are equipped with continuous recording electronic monitoring devices including Close Circuit Televisions (CCTV). The selection of vessels to be equipped will be done based on their level of discard risk.

12. What new measures are proposed to strengthen control rules on recreational fisheries?

The Commission proposes to introduce specific tools allowing to better control recreational fisheries by the Member States. Via a simple registration or licensing system, Member States will know how many persons are fishing for recreational purposes and will be able to the collect reliable data on catches and practices.
The collection of sufficient and reliable data on recreational fishing is necessary in order to evaluate the impact of such fishing practices on stocks and provide Member States and the Commission with the information necessary for an effective management of marine biological resources.

There are an estimated 8 to 10 million recreational fishermen in the EU, but catches from recreational fisheries are today still largely unaccounted for because of lack of proper control measures. This has a direct and increasing impact on fish stocks, including on commercial ones subject to catch limits.

13. What does it change for the traceability for fishery and aquaculture products?

A proper traceability system for fisheries and aquaculture products makes sure that the information provided to the consumers concerning the species and the origin of the fishery or aquaculture product is accurate. It also avoids that fishery products caught in contravention with the rules of the CFP, are placed on the market.

There are nowadays 28 different traceability systems in the EU, but the current legal framework does not ensure interoperability between them. Furthermore, the use of paper based documentation hinders the flow of information across Member States and sometimes inside their territory.

By removing existing barriers, the new rules will help to strengthen the internal market and increase economic prosperity within the EU. The proposal also makes sure that the same set of information accompanies fisheries products from the net to the retail stage, irrespective of their origin. The same rules will therefore apply to fishery and aquaculture products imported from third countries. Traceability rules do not apply in the case of small quantities of fishery products sold directly from fishing vessels to the consumers.

14. What does the proposal change as regards the sanctioning and enforcement system?

An enforcement system with dissuasive, proportionate and effective sanctions is paramount to ensure that the CFP and its conservation measures are complied with.

The Commission is proposing amendments to the Control Regulation and targeted amendments to the IUU Regulation to clarify, simplify, streamline and significantly improve the current rules on inspections, sanctions and enforcement.

All provisions will be in one single act: the Control Regulation. The enforcement system will allow fishermen to be treated equally across the EU, irrespective of the Member State where they operate or land.

All infringements will have to be subject to administrative sanctions, even though criminal prosecutions will not disappear. The level of sanctions for serious infringements is harmonised in order to create a level playing field and provide for an effective deterrent.

The list of serious infringements against the CFP is updated and some of those infringements will be considered as serious per se, independently from the size of the vessel or the amount of fishery products on board. In addition, criteria for serious infringements are clarified, so that it will be easier and more straightforward for the authorities to apply them and to attribute points to licence holders or masters who have infringed the rules.

15. How will personal data be protected?

Personal data collected by the Member States and the Commission for the purpose of performing fisheries control and enforcement activities will be protected in accordance with Union law on the protection of personal data.

The Member States and the Commission will put in place the appropriate technical and security measures. Also, they will retain the data only for the amount of time necessary for the discharge of their duties.

More information

Common Fisheries Policy: Commission proposes new rules to step up enforcement

Commission proposal