Reforming the Common Fisheries Policy

Reforming the Common Fisheries Policy

Jill Wakefield

This book takes a critical view of the policy and law governing EU marine fisheries and the effect of the 2013 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Reforms to the CFP are impeded by Treaty-guaranteed concessions, exemptions from general environmental legislation and the Court of Justice’s creation of principles unique to the sector. The author discusses how damaging effects of fishing could be ameliorated if the Court were to align fisheries principles with general principles of law, and considers the institutional and regulatory frameworks needed to encourage prudent resource use.

Chapter 6: Sustainable fishing

Jill Wakefield

Subjects: environment, energy policy and regulation, environmental law, environmental politics and policy, law - academic, environmental law, maritime law, politics and public policy, environmental governance and regulation, environmental politics and policy


Sustainability in EU fisheries is the subject of this chapter. Although it has been suggested that the Law of the Sea Convention introduced a principle of sustainable use to apply in all international instruments dealing with fisheries, there is little evidence that it has entered customary international law. The CFP pursues sustainable exploitation, which is its basic principle along with the principle of relative stability. These two principles are unique to EU fisheries. Sustainable exploitation gives priority to socio-economic factors and is expressed in fish catch levels which, routinely, have been set too high, leading to overexploitation. Legal challenges to such decisions on ground of environmental protection have not been successful, the strict rules on standing instituted by the Court of Justice being rigorously maintained. The balancing of economic, social and environmental interests that should be undertaken by policy-makers continues to give priority to the interests of the industrial fisheries sector, exacerbating the problem of regulatory capture already entrenched within decision-making. Relative stability is a principle that guarantees fish shares to Member States and militates against the reduction in quotas. The language of precaution and sustainability as applied in EU fishery legislation and as judicially interpreted is a significant obstacle to change. Successive reforms have simply overlain the fundamental concepts of sustainable exploitation and relative stability without dismantling them. As a result, these concepts continue to determine the operation of EU fisheries.

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