EU auditors criticise fisheries protection system
Unreliable catch data, inspections of limited effectiveness, systems for following up infringements and imposing sanctions that are often inappropriate, and all of this in a context of overcapacity which jeopardises compliance with the rules: these are the main findings of the European Court of Auditors in its latest Special Report on fishing in Community waters. The multiple shortcomings that it identifies call into question whether the various measures for fishery resources management, and the total allowable catch (TAC) and quota system in particular, are operating effectively. In conclusion, the Court of Auditors makes numerous recommendations that the political authorities must implement if they want the common fisheries policy (CFP) to achieve its objective of sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources.
Lower catches and overexploitation of fishery resources have been observed for many years. They are also indicators of the failure of the CFP, the objective of which is the sustainable exploitation of living aquatic resources.
The European Union's main resource management measure is limiting catch volumes by setting annual quotas, i.e. maximum quantities that each national fishing fleet is entitled to take from Community waters. Other measures involve limiting activity at sea, the specifications of fishing gear or the minimum size of fish.
The European Court of Auditors' audit focused on systems for collecting and monitoring catch data, on inspection arrangements, and systems for following up infringements and imposing sanctions. In each of these areas, significant shortcomings were found.
Firstly, the Court of Auditors notes that quota monitoring and quota uptake data are incomplete and unreliable. In the six Member States visited, the procedures in force guarantee neither that the data collected are complete, nor that inconsistencies are detected when they are validated. In two of them, it is not even possible to reconcile the annual totals with the individual declarations made by fishing industry operators. For its part, the Commission is not in a position to identify satisfactorily errors and misstatements in the data forwarded by the Member States. In particular, it is unable to explain the differences between the figures that its Directorate-General for fisheries receives and those received by Eurostat.
As regards the inspections, for which the Member States are responsible, the Court found that the systems in place do not provide assurance that infringements are effectively prevented and detected. The absence of general control standards is an impediment to adequate control pressure and optimisation of inspection activities. Moreover it limits the Commission’s ability to give an opinion as to the overall effectiveness of national systems. Furthermore, the Community Fisheries Control Agency, contrary to what its name suggests, has no powers of its own as regards fisheries control, since its role is limited to organising operational coordination of national inspection activities.
As regards systems for following up infringements and imposing sanctions, the Court of Auditors considers that they are often inappropriate. At national level, the ways of dealing with infringements do not support the assertion that every infringement is followed up and still less that each one attracts a penalty; even when penalties are imposed their deterrent effect is, on the whole, limited. As for the failings of Member States, the only legal procedure which led to a financial penalty was an action before the Court of Justice which ended 21 years after the first infringements were recorded.
The Court of Auditors also emphasises that the overcapacity of the Community fleet is an incitement to non-compliance with catch limitations; it also affects the quality of the data submitted. The Community's current approach, based essentially on reducing the fishing effort, is unlikely to resolve the problem of overcapacity.
In conclusion, the report says that, if the political authorities want the CFP to achieve its objective of sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources, the present control, inspection and sanction systems must be strengthened considerably