The Problem of Regulation in EU Fisheries


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Keywords: fisheries, regulation, polluter pays, sustainability, responsibility, market

Abstract: The European Union's common fisheries policy is undergoing reform but the essential problem, in that those exploiting the resource bear no responsibility for its sustainable maintenance, is not addressed. The proposals devised by the Commission for reform are expressly predicated on the tragedy of the commons. The Commission subscribes to the concept of property as regulation and proposes to address the problems of overfishing and overcapacity through an ecosystem-based approach with a ban on discards, the adoption of multiannual plans and the introduction of a target to restore stocks, together with a system of transferable fishing concessions for appropriators to engender a greater sense of responsibility. However, the inability of complex fisheries regulation to redress degradation suggests its utility may be coming to an end and that the Commission should look to market-based solutions and impose the cost of marine fisheries depletion on those permitted to extract from the resource.


The common fisheries policy (CFP) of the European Union is currently undergoing reform. Proposals for a new regulatory system put forward by the European Commission are designed to overcome what it describes as 'the tragedy of the commons',1 a pre¬dicament scrutinised by economists who perceive it as a market failure. In the latest round of common fisheries policy reform,2 the Commission proposes redress to the twin problems of overfishing and overcapacity through further regulatory control on access in a mandatory scheme of individual transferable rights, increased participation for stake¬holders in the implementation of policy at regional level and the adoption of maximum sustainable yield targets for extraction.3 While intended to instil a greater sense of respon¬sibility for the resource in appropriators, legislators have not been able to agree the new measures and a new fisheries policy, which should have been in place at the beginning of 2013, is now not expected until 2014. As drafted, the reform proposals circumvent the fundamental problem causing the 'tragedy', that those accessing the fish resource do not pay for it and, despite being granted access, are not held responsible for its maintenance in a sustainable state. The regulatory regime has all the hallmarks of a system that has lost its utility. A mechanism needs to be found both to shift the responsibility for the sustainability of the resource from the regulator to the appropriator and to force the appropriator to account for any damage caused to the resource.

This article considers the EU s normative regulation of fisheries, which has the objective of sustainability but which has resulted in the continuing decline of the sector. The current CFP reform proposals omit any transfer of responsibility for the state of the resource onto its appropriators, which is discordant with the EU's approach to other resource-use regimes where the costs of externalities are to be borne by operators rather than the public at large. This article argues that the regulation of EU fisheries should impose the cost of marine fisheries depletion on those permitted to extract from the resource.

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