Select Committee on European Scrutiny Seventh Report


COM(00) 724

Commission Communication: Fisheries and poverty reduction.

Legal base:
Document originated: 8 November 2000
Forwarded to the Council: 10 November 2000
Deposited in Parliament: 1 December 2000
Department: International Development
Basis of consideration: EM of 22 January 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
Presented to Council: 10 November 2000
Committee's assessment: Politically important
Committee's decision: Not cleared; further information requested

The Commission Communication

  7.1  The Communication sets out the Commission's strategy for addressing poverty through the fisheries sector. It argues that a development policy approach to fisheries has significant potential in the fight against poverty. 150 million poor people depend on the fishery sector for their livelihood and over one billion depend on fisheries for critical contributions to their nutrition.

  7.2  According to the Communication, between 50% and 60% of the value of world catches comes from waters under the jurisdiction of developing countries. More than 50% of catches in the waters of African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries are made by foreign vessels. The international trade in fish, with 80% purchased by developed countries, has strong growth rates. 58% of EU consumption is imported. In recent years, it is estimated that 63% of ACP exports have gone to the EU, 27% to Japan and 10% to the United States.

  7.3  The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea is the legal basis for fisheries agreements in which payment is made to third countries in return for access to their surplus stocks. The document acknowledges that these payments have not led to the development of local capacity in partner countries and that in some cases foreign access poses real threats to the existing local fisheries.

  7.4  The Commission emphasises that fisheries agreements under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) are a means of both securing supplies for European consumers and supporting employment in fisheries-dependent regions of Europe. 17 of the 26 in force between 1998 and 2000 were with developing countries, and the average annual cost to the Community budget of the agreements in that period was 270 million euros. This figure is significantly higher than the Community's aid commitment to the fishery sector in all developing countries. The Commission says that the Community recognises that reform in this area of the CFP is necessary and that there is clearly a need for coherence with other Community policies, as well as for the policies of the Member States to be complementary.

  7.5  The Commission warns that the sustainability of resources is a major cause for concern. Most maritime resources are located on a narrow continental plateau and are subject to ecological pressures because of the massive increase in population in coastal areas. 50% of the world's population lives less than 60 km from a coast. Developing countries are "fragile" in the face of unregulated and illegal exploitation. Global governance is required and, as one of the most important fishing powers in the world, the EU should set high standards and play a leading role. The objective must be to protect the sustainability of resources in both European and non-European waters. The Community should be prepared:

    "to adapt and improve targeted measures to strengthen research, evaluation of stocks, control, training, infrastructure, governance, sanitary installations, etc."

  7.6  A coherent EU policy should achieve a balance between several objectives:

    —  solidarity with developing countries;

    —  a healthy global marine environment which is considered as a "world resource" and a common heritage of humanity;

    —  a commercial and consumer interest in satisfying Europe's need for supplies of fish and fish products; and

    —  an economic and social interest in supporting certain traditional European fishing communities which fish in distant waters.

  7.7  The strategy proposed by the Commission is to provide sector support to countries where fisheries are capable of making a significant contribution to poverty reduction. Financial contributions linked to fisheries agreements should be allocated directly to the national budget of the countries concerned. Regional support should be a priority, taking into account the regional nature of fisheries problems and the Community's comparative advantage in this field.

  7.8  For developing countries involved in EU fisheries agreements, the Commission proposes that there should be a separate programme, drawing partially on development co-operation budgets, which should be aimed at building up the capacity of local administrations and industries. This programme should also seek to secure the involvement of local fishing communities and civil society in the implementation of the agreements, and to promote local communities' influence over the use of the funds generated by the agreements.

  7.9  The Commission notes that the Communication has its origins in a continuing process of review of EU rural development policy. Further consideration of fisheries agreements will be undertaken, it says, in the Common Fisheries Policy Green Book, which is due in 2001, and thereafter in the review of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2002.

The Government's view

  7.10  Ministerial responsibility for UK fisheries matters, including external aspects of the Common Fisheries Policy, rests with the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, and Ministers of the devolved administrations. The Secretary of State for International Development (the Rt. Hon. Clare Short) is responsible for UK policy on Community development matters and she has signed the Explanatory Memorandum. She comments:

    "In general, the UK Government supports external Fisheries Agreements since they maintain opportunities for EU distant water vessels, including some from the UK, and provide socio-economic benefits to certain fisheries-dependent regions in Europe. They also (in theory) allow third countries to realise the value of fisheries resources they do not wish to exploit themselves. The Government's policy (as set out in the White Paper on Eliminating World Poverty — a Challenge for the 21st Century[29]) is to ensure that fisheries agreements provide value for money, promote sustainable fishing and are coherent with UK and EU development policies.

    "But there are risks in these agreements for developing countries and stronger measures are needed to ensure that they are implemented in a way that does not threaten the resources themselves or the livelihoods of people dependent on the resources.

    "The achievement of international development objectives depends significantly on the performance of multilateral organisations, and UK policies on international development specifically target improvements in the EU development programme. These policies also aim to ensure that fisheries agreements are coherent with development policies, that they promote sustainable fishing and that they provide value for money.

    "The strategy proposed in the Communication does not fully address UK policy objectives. The focus on fisheries agreements detracts from the very much wider issues of poverty and fisheries and a prioritisation based primarily on countries with fisheries agreements would not reflect broader environment and development objectives. However, getting the fishing agreements right is nonetheless a significant and direct contribution which the Community can make to its development objectives, through a more effective, sustainable management of the natural resource base.

    "The proposal to support the development of administration and industry capacity in third countries does not take account of lessons learned to date. Experience indicates that the institutional environment in many third countries makes it difficult for those targeted actions to achieve their objectives. Most importantly, experience also indicates that there is often a lack of the reliable scientific data on resources and fleet capacity needed to achieve sustainability in resource use.

    "Effective, practical means of addressing these problems and enhancing third countries' capacity for sustainable and equitable use of their resources have yet to be identified."

  7.11  The Commission did not undertake any external consultation before adopting this Communication. It was presented to the Development Council in November but no discussion took place.


  7.12  We support the Commission in opening up this difficult issue to discussion. In its Communication it recognises that there are a number of interests which need to be reconciled and balanced. Given the significant proportion of its imports of fish from developing countries, it is right that the European Union should play a leading role, and we hope that this paper will lead to positive action and practical outcomes.

  7.13  Some of the conflicts of interest identified may affect this country. The Secretary of State indicates that the United Kingdom has an interest in maintaining opportunities for United Kingdom distant-water vessels. We ask her to provide us with some facts and figures on the value of these opportunities to the economy and to specific fishing communities. We also ask her how compatible these interests are with the objective of promoting sustainable fishing in non-European as well as European waters, and with United Kingdom and European Union development policies.

  7.14  The Commission makes no specific proposals for the conservation of fish in inland waters. Does the Government believe that any policy developed by the Community on fisheries and poverty reduction should also seek to promote sustainable use of resources in these areas?

  7.15  We note that the Council did not discuss the Communication, and ask the Government to tell us whether it plans to press for follow-up action to be taken.

29   This quotation has been amended so that it refers to the correct White Paper. Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 15 March 2001