In spite of two previous reforms the EU Common Fisheries Policy(CFP) has remained hugely controversial, satisfying neither fishing communities nor conservationists. The most recent  process started in July 2011, with the publication of the reform package by the European Commission. Fisheries Commissioner, Maria Damanaki, described the existing policy as a failure and tabled a proposal for an ambitious reform based on sustainability, considering that this is essential if the fishing industry is to have a future. More precisely, the reform proposals aim to create the conditions for EU fishing fleets to be economically viable and to promote EU aquaculture, for the benefit of the communities that depend on these activities as well as for the benefit of consumers.

The reform package proposed includes three legislative proposals: (1) a proposal for a new basic regulation for a Common Fisheries Policy, (2) a proposal for a new regulation on the Common Market Organisation (CMO) and (3) a proposal for the future financial instrument 2014-2020 in support of the Common Fisheries Policy, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (IMFF). These three texts need to be scrutinised by the Council of Fisheries Ministers and the European Parliament, as the Parliament gained full co-legislator powers after the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty.

Main elements of the fisheries reform
Sustainability is at the heart of the proposed reform. Two of the three main elements of the reform proposals, aim to end overfishing and make fishing sustainable. (1) Maximum sustainable yield (MSY) as a compulsory reference for fisheries management: fisheries management should allow all stocks to be rebuilt to healthy levels that will maximise catches for fishermen. A legal obligation to rebuild depleted fish stocks by 2020 to levels above MSY and the requirement to set fishing opportunities based on scientific advice are the tools to achieve this. (2) A landing obligation:  discarding – the wasteful practice of throwing unwanted fish overboard – will be phased out with a precise timeline for implementation. A legal obligation for fishermen to land all catches will be the overriding principle. (3) Regionalised decision-making: decisions on fisheries management must be taken with the involvement of fishermen and stakeholders, and must take into account the specificities of the sea basins.

The reform also aims at supporting small-scale fisheries, developing sustainable aquaculture, improving scientific knowledge, empowering the sector, having better informed consumers, ending dependency on subsidies, creating jobs and growth in coastal areas and taking international responsibility in sustainable fisheries.

State of play of the reform process
The Commission's proposal is now being debated within the Council of Fisheries Ministers and the European Parliament. The Parliament as co-legislator in fisheries matters has been busy working on the dossiers. Following long and difficult discussion for over a year it has already given its first reading on two of the three texts of the new Common Fisheries Policy, and only the financial instrument remains to be scrutinised (Fisheries Committee vote in April and plenary vote in June). It is worth highlighting the important vote that took place on  6th February when the Parliament supported with a broad majority an ambitious reform of the CFP, putting environmental sustainability at the forefront of reform. Their support for a policy based on exploiting fisheries resources sustainably (MSY from 2015) and for a policy that introduces a discard ban to put an end to wasteful practices, were key elements adopted. Also worth noting the large number of amendments tabled – over 3000 for the basic regulation – which reflects the strong divergence of positions across national as well as political group lines and highlights the huge political importance attached to the CFP reform.

As far as the Council of Ministers is concerned, they reached a partial agreement in June 2012 under the Danish presidency. Now, under the Irish presidency, they have set an ambitious agenda to try reaching a political agreement in the Council on the remaining parts of the proposals. In particular there are concerns on the implementation of the discard ban, the reform of the Common Market Organisation (CMO) and the criteria for the allocation of public funding in the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), where a compromise is needed. It is ironic to note that Eskild Kierkegaard, a Danish Fisheries expert who was then a member of the European Sustainable Use Specialist Group Fisheries Working Group, gave a far-sighted paper on the discard problem at the IUCN Congress in Amman in 2000, now thirteen years ago!

Next steps
The three regulation proposals are now entering the phase, in which Council and Parliament – each with their respective positions – with the help of the Commission, will try to reach agreement. Representatives of the three institutions will begin tri-party discussions (so called 'trilogues') aimed at reaching a compromise. The reform process is expected to be finalised by the end of 2013 with the hope of having a reformed CFP up and running in 2014.

Despina Symons is Director of the European Bureau for Conservation and Development, an active member of SULi and the Commission on Ecosystem Management.