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Friday the 13th - unlucky for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy?

Friday the 13th doesn't have the most auspicious ring to it. In fact in the UK today Friday 13th is the most widely known superstition. Well exactly a year ago - on yet another Friday 13th in July, the European Commission presented its proposals for the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Could they not have chosen a better day? And is it an omen for fish everywhere that one year on, the day and the date is the same? Well, MCS hopes not.

Last year, on this day, MCS and the other members of the UK NGO coalition released our official response to proposals for the reform of the CFP. Collectively we demanded that the CFP reform proposed by the European commission ensured the sustainable future of our fish and fisheries. At the time the Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, seemed eager to face the challenge stating that " Today's proposals from the European Commission are a vital first step and we are ready to work with the EU and other Member States to deliver the radical reforms the marine environment and our fishermen need and the public now expects."

Well those confident Friday 13th words haven't brought much luck to the process. MCS is hugely disappointed that this "vital first step" has been followed by many hesitant baby steps which has left the reform stumbling in all directions.

There have been some confident steps in the in the right direction and they include the recognition of small scale fisheries within the Council adopted General Approach to the CFP, which identifies coastal fisheries and communities as an important part of the European fishing community. Direct reference to the application of an ecosystem based approach to management which minimises the impact of damaging fishing practices and to the CFPs consolidation with other environmental legislation such as achieving Good Environmental Status (GES), as outline in the Marine Strategy Framework Directive (MSFD), is also highlighted in the General Approach.

However, there is no specific reference to the other legislations which will interact with the CFP such as the Birds Directive and the Water Framework Directive. We were also pleased to see the addition of the term "sustainable" with reference to the planned development of the aquaculture industry. However, there remains to be any reference to minimising the environmental impacts of aquaculture expansion in the text.

Stumbling side steps come in the form of the General Approach acknowledging the importance of a discard ban and the achievement of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) for all stocks. However, these key elements are weakened by a lack of ambition from the Council. A discard ban will be put in place and will be integrated gradually fishery by fishery, this will however, take place over an extended time period which can be as far into the future are 2019 for some stocks. MSY remains focused on Fmsy, (the level of fishing mortality) continuing the pattern of low ambition shown by the council. The term "where possible" reduces this ambition even further; extending the time line for achieving MSY until 2020 for many stocks. The mandatory nature of Transferable Fishing Concessions, which would require Member States to introduce a rights based management regime into their management of fisheries, has been removed; however no further proposals for the reduction of the fleet have been presented by the council. We would like to see the fleet aligned with sustainable exploitation and see capacity balanced with available resources through long-term adjustment plans for each fishery.

The CFP is currently being reviewed by the European Parliament under co-decision, a process which requires final agreement between the Council and the Parliament. At this stage the Parliament has submitted a report to the Fisheries Committee (known as PECH) prepared by the rapporteur, Ulrike Rodust (S&D); the rapporteur is the MEP responsible for reporting the decisions of the Parliament.

This gives MEPs the opportunity to propose any amendments to the CFP document that they see fit; which they have done... with gusto. In addition to the 227 amendments tabled by Rodust an additional 2322 have been proposed by MEPs resulting in a staggering 2549 proposed amendments to the original CFP text.

The overwhelming number of proposed amendments and significant time it is taking for agreements to be made is resulting in the time table for CFP reform and implementation slipping further and further into the future. It already seems unlikely that an agreement will be reached between the Council and Parliament before early 2013 and even that is being optimistic.

However, while the CFP is debated by MEPs in Europe we are continuing to lobby government, to engage with the industry and to make sure that the target of a sustainable future for our marine ecosystems isn't forgotten. MCS has continued to work with the NGO CFP coalition and is helping to make sure that maintaining and recovering our seas and fisheries are a priority.

The question therefore remains - in the year since the CFP reform proposal was released what has been achieved in relation to the CFP? What will this mean for the future of our seas? Will Friday the 13th become a date to forget for fishes, fishers and consumers? Or can we turn the tide on superstition and make this the CFP reform that ensures the future of our fish and fisheries.

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