EU fishing policy to become more federal

Fishing boats, Whitby harbour, North Yorkshire (picture Freefoto.com)

The blog has observed before the problems facing the fishing industry. The ability of the fishing fleets to catch fish has been outstripping the ability of the marine environment to regenerate itself. Every other industry has used technology to boost its productivity: why should fishing be any different?

The regulation of the fishing industry has not adapted to technological change (and advances in scientific knowledge, too) and stocks are in severe decline as a result. What can be done?

The European Commission is now considering a substantial reform of the fishing policy, which would include substantial cuts in capacity but which would also involve more federalism. (Read about it here.)

Specifically, there is the idea to move away from a system of national quotas, which are then distributed among “national fleets”. Instead, the suggestion is that quotas should be awarded directly to individuals, regardless of nationality. This creates a direct relationship between the EU and the citizen, rather than having that relationship intermediated by national governments. This is the essence of federalism. (In the jargon, fishing quota would become a “federal instrument”.)

We always used to say that a European fishing policy was necessary because fish are not constrained by national borders and swim from one part of the sea to another. One might go further and say that a federal European fishing policy is needed because the harm done to the marine environment does not depend on the nationality of the crew that does the fishing.

Of course, there is a lot to be done to ensure that the decisions regarding the regulation of fishing are taken in a democratic and accountable way – this is the other half of what federalism means – but a recognition of this shared reality is the first step.

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