We need to move away from all fisheries management decisions being made centrally, in Brussels, towards a more devolved approach - argues academic
Two weeks ago - representatives of the fishing industry, scientists, non-governmental organisations and policy-makers unanimously agreed that the North Sea should be used as a testing ground for changes to Europe's fishing policy. More specifically, to explore how European Union member states can reclaim more control from Brussels over their fisheries. Hailing from Belgium, Denmark, Scotland, England and the Netherlands - these individuals were not just holding different passports, they were holding different interests and, historically, different views on the future of the continent's fisheries.
They converged in London to thrash out the practicalities of one of the most controversial proposals of the European Common Fisheries Policy reform package – 'regionalisation'. And in facing CFP reform, NGOs and industry alike are united - not just in recognising the need for change, but also in wanting practical solutions to achieve that change. The downfalls of the CFP have been well documented, but the good news is that the reformed policy is due to come into effect in 2013. Regionalisation, one of the European Commission's key proposals for change, describes the move away from all fisheries management decisions being made centrally in Brussels - towards a more devolved approach. It would mean member states work with regional stakeholders to decide upon the best way to manage the fisheries in their own waters.
Although politically popular - receiving widespread support from the commission, member states and industry - the practicalities of regionalisation have yet to be resolved. The lack of answers about how regionalisation would work at sea has now thrown doubt over its chances of surviving the CFP's reform, in any meaningful way. However, failing to make regionalisation work is not an option. If we want sustainable fisheries - we need to involve the full range of fishermen, scientists and policy-makers in deciding how and what we fish. Ending the practice of all fisheries management decisions being made centrally, in Brussels, is one way we can achieve this.
At the recent GAP2 workshop, we collective stakeholders were looking for answers. And together, we managed to find a few. Of course, reaching consensus was not possible on every issue. For example, there was disagreement over whether member states would be included in the regional advisory bodies know as RACs, the exact roles of different bodies - the commission, European Council and European Parliament - and whether there needs to be separate decision bodies for coastal and small scale fisheries.
But we made a start. We agreed on the need for greater political will behind regionalisation, for better understanding about how such changes would be funded by the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund and for no further additional management. Above all, there was a unanimous call for regionalisation to be tested, on the ground - and that the North Sea basin should be used for that purpose. Putting aside their strong their often strong and vociferous views regarding the North Sea fisheries, those present collectively agreed that their home ground should be used to test the premise of regionalization - while at the same time accepting that the result of this experiment would not be known immediately.
I would urge the commission and member states involved to take notice of this recommendation. Its validity is only affirmed by the depth of knowledge and breadth of understanding held by the proponents, representing the real balance of views in the North Sea region. Piloting regionalisation would lead to practical lessons; if we are armed with answers, as well as yet unknown questions, the end policy describing regionalisation can only be stronger. People who live, work and breathe fisheries - from across the fields of science, industry and policy have come together to find solutions to a policy problems. They have now found a solution - a common approach, which if adopted could lead to a better CFP and better fisheries management, benefitting both the environment and the people whose lives and histories are intimately connected to the sea. If we are serious about giving power over fisheries back to the stakeholders and member states, we could do no better than listening to those very same people right now. Dr Steve Mackinson works at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science, in the United Kingdom, and coordinates the GAP2 project - a European Commission-funded initiative