Sustainable management of external fishing fleets

In “Fisheries - PECH”

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EU vessels fishing in waters beyond the national jurisdiction of EU Member States, as well as third country vessels operating in EU waters, are subject to an authorisation procedure defined by the Fishing Authorisation Regulation (FAR) 1006/2008. This regulation provides the legal framework for issuing and managing fishing authorisations and is part of the control system of the Common Fisheries Policy, along with the Control Regulation 1224/2009 and the IUU Regulation 1005/2008.

In December 2015 the European Commission proposed a revised authorisation system, intended to improve monitoring and transparency of the EU external fishing fleet. The proposed regulation on ‘Sustainable management of external fishing fleets’, which would repeal the FAR, draws up a new general framework for authorising EU fishing vessels to operate outside EU waters, and third country fishing vessels to operate in EU waters. The proposed revision is expected to address the objectives of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy and to provide consistency with the Control Regulation.

The proposal extends the current scope of the authorisation system to include practices which have been poorly monitored so far, such as private agreements between EU companies and third countries and abusive reflagging operations. Most of the changes introduced by the proposal concern EU vessels fishing outside European waters. The core principle of the proposal is that any such vessel, whatever the area and the framework in which it operates, should be authorised and monitored by its flag Member State.

Member States would authorise fishing vessels using common eligibility criteria, complemented by specific conditions depending on the nature of the authorisation. The proposal introduces the requirement that all fishing vessels have a number granted by the International Maritime Organization (known as the IMO number), intended to ensure the traceability of the vessel throughout its lifespan. In the same line of improving traceability, the proposal contains specific provisions on EU vessels reflagging to a third country and returning to an EU flag, with a view to preventing abusive practices which circumvent the conservation and management measures in place. Whereas Member States are in charge of monitoring fishing authorisations, the proposal introduces the possibility for the Commission to request a flag Member State to deny or withdraw the authorisation, and, if the Member State fails to comply, to withdraw the authorisation. Finally, the Commission must create and maintain an electronic fishing authorisations register for information exchange with the Member States, part of which, showing who fishes what and where, would for the first time be publicly accessible.

Parliament's Committee on Fisheries (PECH) discussed the proposal on the basis of the draft report by Linnéa Engström (Greens/EFA, Sweden), with the Committee on Development (DEVE) providing an opinion. On 5 December 2016, the PECH Committee adopted its report by 22 votes to 1, supporting the proposal, which it expects to improve the management of the EU external fleet, and to create a level playing field for all fishing activities conducted under the EU flag.

The European Parliament approved the resolution in plenary on 2 February 2017, and on 28 February 2017 the PECH Committee adopted a decision to open interinstitutional negotiations. The Council’s COREPER agreed on a mandate for negotiations on 8 March 2017.

After three political trilogues, on 20 June 2017, the Parliament and the Council reached a provisional agreement on the future regulation, which was approved by the PECH Committee on 12 July 2017. As Council’s first reading position, adopted on 17 October 2017, was in conformity with the agreement reached in the trilogues, the PECH Committee voted, on 21 November 2017, on a draft recommendation to the plenary to approve Council’s position at first reading without amendment.

Among other things in the agreed text, the Parliament introduced stricter rules for EU vessels transhipping at sea (i.e. unloading catches from one vessel to another), in the framework of direct authorisations and on the high seas, requiring prior notification and annual reporting of such operations. As regards reflagging, Parliament supported provisions for better information and consistency with the IUU Regulation, with vessels receiving authorisation only if they did not engage in IUU fishing, nor operated in a non-EU country listed or identified as uncooperative under the IUU Regulation. The Parliament also required that operators fishing under direct authorisations provide a scientific evaluation demonstrating the sustainability of the planned activities. The agreement limits the Commission’s power to intervene in the withdrawal of authorisations, to cases of contravention of measures adopted by regional fisheries management organisations or under EU fisheries agreements. In terms of transparency, more information will be included in the public part of the fishing authorisation register, such as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) number – which ensures the traceability of a vessel throughout its lifespan, along with the type of authorisation, including the species targeted, and the authorised time and area of fishing activity.

The European Parliament adopted the text on 12 December 2017, and the final act was signed the same day. The new regulation was published in the Official Journal on 28 December 2017 as Regulation (EU) 2017/2403, and entered into force on the 20th day following its publication.


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 Author: Irina Popescu, Members' Research Service,

As of 20/11/2019.