19.8.2016   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

C 303/116


Opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the ‘Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the sustainable management of external fishing fleets, repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1006/2008’

(COM(2015) 636 final — 2015/0289 (COD))

(2016/C 303/16)

Rapporteur:

Mr Gabriel SARRÓ IPARRAGUIRRE

On 17 December and 22 December 2015 respectively, the European Parliament and the Council decided to consult the European Economic and Social Committee, under Articles 43(2) and 304 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, on the:

Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council on the sustainable management of external fishing fleets, repealing Council Regulation (EC) No 1006/2008

(COM(2015) 636 final — 2015/0289 (COD)).

The Section for Agriculture, Rural Development and the Environment, which was responsible for preparing the Committee’s work on the subject, adopted its opinion on 11 May 2016.

At its 517th plenary session, held on 25 and 26 May 2016 (meeting of 25 May), the European Economic and Social Committee adopted the following opinion by 146 votes to 4 with 8 abstentions.

1.   Conclusions

1.1

The EESC supports the objectives pursued by the European Commission in this proposal and therefore considers it necessary to review the existing regulation, in order to promote simplification, increase transparency, improve governance, guarantee effective monitoring of the enforcement of rules, reaffirm reciprocity with third countries and preserve the millennium-old fishing culture, while ensuring its sustainability.

1.2

However, the Committee believes that as it stands the proposal is liable to place an excessive administrative and bureaucratic burden on the European Commission, Member States and operators which, in the absence of the necessary technical, material and human resources, would undermine the intended simplification exercise and lead to negative socio-economic consequences for employers and workers in the fisheries sector.

1.3

The EESC calls for sufficient budgetary and human resources for both the unit at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries responsible for these matters and for the Member States’ supervisory authorities to enable them to carry out their tasks properly.

1.4

The Committee is in favour of the responsibility for the fishing authorisation procedure falling to the Member States, allowing the European Commission to verify the validity of the authorisation based on eligibility criteria. As guardian of the Treaties, the Commission will thereby ensure that Member States fulfil their obligations.

1.5

The EESC calls on the European Commission, the Council of EU Fisheries Ministers and the European Parliament to take into account the general and specific comments set out in this opinion.

2.   Background

2.1

The Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) covers the conservation of marine biological resources and the management of fisheries and the fleets exploiting those resources. It encompasses fishing activities carried out in Union waters, as well as those carried out outside its waters by Union fishing vessels. The CFP was amended by Regulation (EU) No 1380/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2013.

2.2

Council Regulation (EC) No 1006/2008 of 29 September 2008 deals with authorisations of Union vessels to fish outside Union waters and authorisations granted to third country fishing vessels to operate in Union waters.

2.3

The Commission considers it necessary to revise the existing regulation on fishing authorisations with a view to properly including the new CFP objectives and ensuring consistency with Council Regulations (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU), and No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the CFP.

2.4

Similarly, the Commission stresses the EU’s international obligations as a contracting party to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, through its accession to the FAO Agreement to Promote Compliance with International Conservation and Management Measures by Fishing Vessels on the High Seas and through the FAO International Plan of Action to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate IUU fishing.

2.5

The proposal broadens the scope to cover issues such as direct authorisations in cases where there is no sustainable fisheries partnership agreement in force with the third country in question, authorisation and notification of fishing vessels’ support vessels, monitoring reflagging operations, the reallocation of unused fishing opportunities and the need to establish a legal framework to enable the EU to better monitor the activities of fishing vessels chartered in the EU in accordance with the provisions adopted by the relevant regional fisheries management organisation.

2.6

Similarly, the proposal covers many other issues such as the exchange of electronic data between Member States and the Commission, the establishment of an electronic register for EU fishing authorisations, the consistency of rules for third country vessels operating in EU waters, including the rules on catch-related data, with those applicable to EU fishing vessels, as well as the possible adoption by the Commission of delegated acts and, where appropriate, immediately applicable implementing acts.

3.   General Comments

3.1

The EESC supports the objectives pursued by the European Commission in this proposal, namely to strengthen the EU’s ability to monitor its fleet fishing outside EU waters, irrespective of the context in which they carry out their activities, taking into account the need to strike a balance between monitoring the EU fleet more effectively and reducing the workload of the national authorities and the EU. The Committee considers it necessary to review the existing regulation, in order to promote simplification, increase transparency, improve governance, guarantee effective monitoring of the enforcement of rules, reaffirm reciprocity with third countries and preserve the millennium-old fishing culture, while ensuring its sustainability.

3.2

However, the Committee believes that, as it stands, without specifying the appropriate tools for simplifying the system the proposal is liable to create an excessive administrative and bureaucratic burden which, in the absence of the necessary technical, material and human resources, would undermine the intended simplification exercise. It is necessary to establish a licensing procedure that is effective and that guarantees the legality of licenses but that is also both simple and quick. Otherwise it would have a serious impact on EU operators who would suffer the consequences of delays in issuing licences and would therefore lose fishing days and find themselves negatively affected from a socio-economic point of view.

3.3

The EESC is aware of the shortage of staff at both the unit in the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission which is responsible for these matters and as well as within Member States’ own supervisory authorities. It therefore calls for sufficient budgetary and human resources to enable them to carry out their work properly.

3.4

Reaffirming the important role of the European Commission throughout this process, the Committee is in favour of the responsibility for the fishing authorisation procedure falling to the Member States, while allowing the Commission to verify the validity of the authorisation based on eligibility criteria.

4.   Specific comments

4.1

In the EESC’s view, the definition of ‘observer program’ within the meaning of Article 3(f), in addition to the scheme under the auspices of a Regional Fisheries Management Organisation (RFMO), should also cover Member State schemes, not only for the verification of the vessel’s compliance with rules but also for data collection.

4.2

Article 5(1)(d) of the proposal provides that the flag Member State may only issue a fishing authorisation if the operator and the fishing vessel have not been subject to a sanction for a serious infringement during the twelve months preceding the application for authorisation. The EESC believes that this eligibility criterion should be deleted as it may give rise to a double penalty which is disproportionate and discriminatory. The Committee feels that Regulations 1224/2009 (control) and 1005/2008 (IUU fishing) already provide for the procedure and sanctions for serious infringements both within and outside EU waters.

4.3

Article 7(5) stipulates that, upon request from the Commission, the flag Member State shall refuse, suspend or withdraw authorisation in cases of ‘overriding policy reasons’ (…). The EESC believes that this wording is too vague and could lead to situations of legal uncertainty for operators, depending on what the European Commission considers to be ‘overriding policy reasons’ in each case. The article should clarify that the refusal, suspension or withdrawal of the authorisation will be carried out upon request from the Commission where it deems there to be a serious risk of possible infringement.

4.4

Article 8 provides that a Union fishing vessel may only carry out fishing activities in waters of a third country if this country is a contracting party or non-contracting cooperating party to an RFMO. The EESC draws attention to the situation in Guinea-Bissau, with which the EU has a sustainable fisheries partnership agreement but which is not a contracting party or a non-contracting cooperating party to the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). As such, the Committee considers that the EU should not become involved in any issues that affect the sovereignty of third countries. On the other hand, such a requirement would place the EU fleet in a position of competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis the fleets of third countries which do not have to comply with that requirement. In any case, the EESC encourages the Commission to continue its efforts, through the Fisheries Partnership Agreement, to ensure that Guinea-Bissau participates in the work of the ICCAT, with a view to the sustainable exploitation of resources.

4.5

With respect to Articles 12(3) and (4), the EESC is concerned that the European Commission might slow down the procedure for issuing fishing authorisations.

4.6

As regards Articles 13 and 14, which refer to the reallocation of unused fishing opportunities in the framework of sustainable fisheries partnership agreements, the Committee calls on the European Commission to implement this reallocation in a way that ensures consistency in the reallocation of fishing opportunities in both EU waters and under bilateral fisheries agreements with third countries, such as Norway.

4.7

Article 18(c) provides that the flag Member State may only grant a fishing authorisation if the operator has provided evidence of the sustainability of the planned fishing activities, on the basis of a scientific evaluation provided by the third country and/or by a RFMO, and an examination of this evaluation by the flag Member State based on the assessment of its national scientific institute. The Committee believes that this final examination by the flag Member State should be deleted.

4.8

Article 19(2) stipulates that the European Commission will have fifteen days to examine the documents provided by the Member States and, in the event of a problem with a given fishing vessel (vessel and/or shipowning company), a further two months to oppose the granting of the authorisation. Applying this section could lead to a considerable delay in the granting of direct fishing authorisations.

4.9

Article 27 provides that the flag Member State shall notify the Commission of the fishing authorisation at least fifteen days before the start of the fishing activities on the high seas. In line with the above, the EESC considers that the deadline of fifteen days should be removed, simply stipulating that it should be communicated to the European Commission ‘before’ the start of the activities.

4.10

The EESC considers it highly desirable that any exchange of information between the Commission and the Member States, as well as with third countries, take place electronically. It also considers it necessary to set up an electronic register of fishing authorisations.

Brussels, 25 May 2016.

The President of the European Economic and Social Committee

Georges DASSIS


APPENDIX

The following point of the section opinion was amended to reflect amendments adopted by the assembly but received more than one quarter of the votes cast (Rule 54(4) of the Rules of Procedure):

Point 4.2

Article 5(1)(d) of the proposal provides that the flag Member State may only issue a fishing authorisation if the operator and the fishing vessel have not been subject to a sanction for a serious infringement during the twelve months preceding the application for authorisation. The EESC believes that it is necessary to adequately sanction operators who commit a serious infringement: refusal to grant the fishing authorisation is not a double penalty but the application of an eligibility criterion. The Committee believes that this measure should apply only in the case of final judgements.

Reason

This could give rise to a double penalty, which would be disproportionate, since the operator and the captain of the vessel would be subject not only to the penalties provided for in Articles 90 to 92 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1224/2009 of 20 November 2009 establishing a Community control system for ensuring compliance with the rules of the CFP, and Articles 42 to 47 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1005/2008 of 29 September 2008 establishing a Community system to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, but also to the non-eligibility to obtain authorisation.

Those articles already provide for heavy penalties for operators who commit serious infringements ranging from financial penalties (at least five times the value of the fishery products obtained when committing the serious infringement) to the following additional penalties:

1)

the sequestration of the fishing vessel involved in the infringement;

2)

the temporary immobilisation of the fishing vessel;

3)

the confiscation of prohibited gear, catches or products;

4)

the suspension or withdrawal of authorisation to fish;

5)

the reduction or withdrawal of fishing rights;

6)

the temporary or permanent exclusion from the right to obtain new fishing rights;

7)

the temporary or permanent ban on access to public assistance or subsidies;

8)

the suspension or withdrawal of the status of approved economic operator granted pursuant to Article 16(3).

Article 92 of Regulation No 1224/2009 also lays down a points system for serious infringements. When the total number of points equals or exceeds a specified number, the fishing licence shall be automatically suspended for a period of at least two months. That period shall be four months if the fishing licence is suspended a second time, eight months if the fishing licence is suspended a third time and one year if the fishing licence is suspended a fourth time as a consequence of a licence holder being assigned the specified number of points. In case of the holder being assigned the specified number of points for a fifth time, the fishing licence shall be permanently withdrawn.

Secondly, we believe that it infringes the principle of non-discrimination, since the same infringements do not incur the same penalties within and outside EU waters. For the same infringements, those fishing outside the EU would have an additional penalty such as non-eligibility to obtain a fishing authorisation for 12 months. This would mean creating a double standard for similar infringements.

Result of the vote:

For

92

Against

50

Abstentions

23