The European Parliament will hold a mini plenary session in Brussels this week (24-25 February). The reform of the common fisheries policies is one of the items on the agenda. The EPs opinions on the EU’s fisheries policies have become very important, since the institution now has full co-decision rights within this area. I think that one particular area of the fisheries policies of the EU deserves special attention, namely the fisheries agreements with developing countries.
The negotiation and implementation of bilateral fisheries agreements between the EU and developing countries is a key component of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The aim of the agreements is to promote responsible and sustainable fisheries in the waters of non EU countries. The agreements give the European fleet access to fish resources in the territorial waters of developing countries. These agreements are criticised by the environmental movement and aid organisations. The fisheries agreements are concluded primarily with African countries. Several important partners, such as Senegal or Angola, have declined the EU offer to renew a Fisheries Partnership Agreement.
The Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) claim that the EU’s fishing fleet is helping to overfish African waters, depriving local fishermen in the developing countries of their main source of income. When the EU concluded a fisheries agreement with Angola, the WWF stated: “Angola is starving but the EU – while providing emergency food aid – has recently signed an agreement to take fish from Angolan waters to feed European markets” (“A WWF Report in Angola Highlights Controversial EU Fishing Agreements with Developing Countries,” WWF, 8 October, 2002).
When the EU signed a fisheries agreement with Morocco in May 2006, some of the EU governments expressed strong criticism. The agreement provides for the EU to pay Morocco €144.4 million under four years in return for giving 119 European vessels opportunities to fish in Morocco’s Atlantic coastal waters, including the disputed territory of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony that was invaded by Moroccan forces in 1975. The Western Saharan waters should have been excluded from the fisheries agreement, according to the criticism (“New EU – Morocco fisheries agreement in breach of international law”, The Fisheries Secretariat, www.fishsec.org).
The fisheries agreements are concluded with countries that are not full democracies. The government of the country might have a financial interest to conclude the agreement, but it is not necessarily beneficial for the population.
The fisheries agreements have been reformed and improved over the years. Nevertheless, further reform is needed, in order to obtain agreements that are truly beneficial for all parties involved. The basis of the fisheries agreements has remained the same, despite the reforms, namely to secure long term access to third countries fish resources and maintain the European fleet’s presence in international waters. The main determining factor of the financial contribution provided by the EU remains the level and conditions of EU fleets access to developing countries resources, not the developmental needs of the third countries.
Ideally the objective of the agreements should be to contribute to the establishment of responsible and sustainable fisheries in the developing countries. Access for boats of EU origin should be restricted to countries where there is no competition (for resources and fishing zones) with the local small scale sector. The EU should not fish in countries where a surplus has not been proved and prevention of overexploitation cannot be guaranteed. The money paid for the agreements should go into investments in the developing countries fishing sectors, in order to safeguard the future contribution of their fisheries sector to reduce poverty and secure food supply.