Research and innovation should play a key role, they agreed. However, the various speakers were less unanimous on fisheries management, in particular quota transfers.
The purpose of this inter-parliamentary meeting held at the European Parliament was to provide input to the upcoming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The first draft legislation is expected by summer 2011. The European Parliament will have its say on the legislation together with the Member States, while the national parliaments will have the right to object to proposals if they believe the matters covered in the legislation could be better dealt with at national level.
Regionalisation not to add new bureaucratic layers
A broad consensus was reached at Tuesday's meeting on devolving decision-making to regions. However, it has to be decided what form regionalisation should take, said Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki. To tackle overfishing - the greatest problem - the EU must create a fair system for transferring fishing rights within Member States, excluding small-scale fisheries. The rights should be treated as a public good, such that they cannot be privatised but only made available for a definite time period of around 10 to 15 years, said the Commissioner.
Parliament's rapporteur on the Commission's CFP reform green paper, Maria do Céu Patrão Neves (EPP, PT), regretted that three months after Parliament had adopted its priorities no concrete proposals on regionalisation had been made. If the EU could have efficient regionalisation, even the complex issue of tradable fishing rights could be solved more effectively, she believed. Dr Juliane Rumpf (Bundesrat), while supporting decentralisation, stressed that the setting up of regional councils must not create an additional layer of bureaucracy.
Funding for research rather than vessel scrapping
Research should be among reform priorities, agreed the speakers. For example, research into more selective fishing gear could reduce unwanted bycatches. Research could also help devise sustainable fisheries management models and resolve environmental and public-health problems in aquaculture, stressed Ulrike Rodust (S&D, DE) and Robert Lecou (French National Assembly). Innovation could add 25 per cent to fishermen's profits but the investment could cost them 25 per cent, so research must be properly funded, stressed Holger Ortel (Bundestag).
Most speakers agreed on the need for further fleet reductions but stressed that different approaches were needed for different fleets. As no more funding will be available for vessel scrapping, fishermen need compensatory measures. One way would be to retrain fishermen for today's needs, believed John Crombez (Flemish Parliament) and Vicente Llanos Vásquez (Spanish Senate). Many speakers also highlighted the need to improve safety and work conditions on vessels.
Fish farming as an alternative
Most speakers agreed that aquaculture is part of the solution to declining fishing resources. However, the EU must be careful what it supports, as not all aquaculture is sustainable, warned Lars Tysklind (Swedish Parliament). Aquaculture must also be consistent with other policies such as the environment or tourism, so regional planning is essential, stressed Ms Rodust.
Transferrable fishing rights?
Denmark has reduced its fishing fleet drastically via a voluntary transferrable quota system. Danish MP Tage Leegaard believed EU Member States need freedom of choice in fisheries management. The possibility to choose the best gear, or to record catches efficiently (e.g. via satellite systems), could also provide solutions, he said.
Isabella Lövin (Greens/EFA, SE) argued that access to fishing rights should be clearly based on environmental sustainability, while Michael McCarthy (Irish Parliament) insisted on maintaining the quota and relative stability systems, ensuring that rights distributed among Member States are based on historical catches. By contrast, Carmen Fraga Estévez (EPP, ES) believed transferrable rights for industrial fleets would increase competiveness while reducing the dependence of sector on public funding.