Lessons From Implementation of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy

Mar 22, 2021
  • Description

Under the European Union's current Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), 2020 had been targeted as the year toachieve a major change in fisheries management: sustainable exploitation rates in place for all stocks. Despiteprogress, the EU did not meet this goal.The story of the policy's implementation begins in 2013, when, after decades of overfishing and ineffectivefisheries management, the European Parliament and the EU's then-28 member state governments agreed onfar-reaching reforms to the previous CFP.1 These included setting sustainable catch limits with the objective torestore stocks, maintain healthy ecosystems and safeguard stable, profitable fisheries for the EU fleet. In 2014,the reformed CFP entered into force, with a focus on bringing fishing pressure in line with scientific advice. Thepolicy required fisheries ministers to ensure sustainable exploitation rates "by 2015 where possible and on aprogressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks."Now, after the 2020 deadline has passed, it's clear that the reforms have brought progress. But the data alsoshows that policymakers are still setting too many catch limits above the levels recommended by scientists, withdecision-making suffering from a short-term approach and lower ambition than the policy requires.In 2008, The Pew Charitable Trusts began working with 192 organisations in the OCEAN2012 coalition to ensurethat a reformed CFP set ambitious, science-based and achievable objectives. In the years since the reforms cameinto force, Pew and several other groups have pushed to hold decision-makers accountable in the efforts to endoverfishing in North-Western European waters and allow stocks to recover to healthy, productive levels.This report presents eight key lessons learned from this work to help implement the EU's fisheries policy, eachlesson augmented by a deeper look at a specific issue. The experiences in implementing the EU policy show that:1. Good management works.As the experience of fisheries managers around the world has shown, when steps are taken to safeguardthe sustainability of stocks and fisheries for the long term, the results include environmental, economicand social benefits.2. Decreased ambition since 2013 led to under-implementation.Decision-makers approached implementation of most major pillars of the CFP pragmatically, toooften showing less political will than needed to deliver the reforms as intended. This led to diminishedexpectations from stakeholders and EU institutions on what could be delivered, almost from the beginning.3. Decisions often favoured maintaining the status quo rather than changing behaviour.Despite ambitious CFP goals intended to change outcomes in the water, decision-makers often adjustedmanagement measures to fit existing patterns of fishing – to the detriment of achieving the objectives.4. EU decision-making remains siloed.Fisheries policy processes often follow their own internal logic, so a focus on fisheries yields and economicoutcomes may overlook other priorities, such as the urgent need to deliver on wider EU environmentalrequirements and commitments.5. Short-term thinking persists in EU management.A long-term perspective – one of the key aims of the 2014 CFP – often took a back seat to immediatepolitical expediency. For example, fisheries ministers continued to set excessive catch limits on the basisthat they were a "compromise" between short- and long-term aims or were necessary for unexplainedeconomic reasons. 

6. Clarity on progress is too often undermined by unclear and inconsistent reporting.Rather than measuring progress against the aims of the CFP, official reporting often uses irrelevant orchanging benchmarks, such as trend comparisons, which frequently do not correspond to the CFP's legalobjectives. This confuses the public about the policy's progress and leads stakeholders to draw differentconclusions on priorities.7. Opaque decision-making hampers progress.A lack of public communication on the scientific basis for European Commission proposals onmanagement measures such as catch limits, and the rationale for legislators' subsequent decisions, toooften prevented scrutiny of decision-making by stakeholders and EU institutions, and undermined trust inthe process.8. Stocks shared with non-EU countries present challenges in achieving CFP aims.Jointly managed stocks require more complex decision-making than stocks that are managed by oneentity. That increases the need for collaborative improvements, especially in the wake of the UK'sdeparture from the EU.To realise the ambitions set by legislators in 2013, EU policymakers need to take the final steps to implementthe CFP in full. The health of marine ecosystems, European fisheries, and the communities that depend on themrequire the sustainable, ecosystem-based management approaches set out in the policy, without exceptions andloopholes. The findings in this review of progress can help guide decision-makers and stakeholders on the workthat remains to fully implement the CFP, and in shaping future priorities for European fisheries.