The reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is being negotiated by the European Parliament and the Council. Some proposals aim at a differentiated approach for small-scale fisheries (SSF), but the characterisation of “small-scale” is far from uniform in view of the diversity of the EU fishing fleet and its activities.
What are small-scale fisheries ?
There is no commonly agreed definition of SSF at European level. Within the CFP legislative framework, “small-scale coastal fishing” is formally defined only for the purposes of the European Fisheries Fund (Regulation 1198/2006) as “fishing carried out by fishing vessels of an overall length of less than 12 metres and not using towed gear” (such as trawls). The fundamentals of fisheries management rules (e.g. the CFP Reg. 2371/2002, total allowable catches and quotas) are set irrespective of vessel size. However, smaller vessels are excluded from some specific fishing rules. For example, in terms of control (Reg. 1224/2009), vessels less than 10 m in length are not obliged to keep a logbook of their fishing operations, and the satellite-based vessel monitoring system only applies to vessels of 12 m or more.
In a broader fisheries policy context, SSF may thereby be generally understood as referring to “small” vessels, but not necessarily excluding trawlers. The term “small-scale” is also quite often referred to as, or used in combination with, “coastal”, “artisanal” or “traditional”. Though not equivalent in practice, these denominations illustrate some of the characteristics frequently associated with SSF activities. Small vessels generally make shorter fishing trips (in duration or in distance). In terms of economic performance, such fisheries are less productive than large industrial vessels but often more labour-intensive per unit of fish caught. SSF vary widely among and within Member States and between European seas. They are often valued for their contribution to the cultural or socio-economic fabric of coastal communities. This latter aspect motivates, among others, the restriction of access to coastal waters only to vessels which “traditionally” fish there, a measure which it is proposed be prolonged (2012/0143(COD)).
SSF may also be seen as more environmentally friendly when trawlers (known for damaging the seabed and generally lower fishing selectivity) are excluded. SSF may however have significant impact on some fish stocks taking into consideration the numbers of vessels and technological progress in fishing.
After having expressed its views on SSF in several resolutions on fisheries issues in recent years, the EP intends to hold a specific debate on small-scale and artisanal fisheries in November 2012. The own initiative report 2011/2292(INI) complements the EP position on the elements of the CFP reform package.
Figure 1: Numbers of fishing vessels per Member State on 1 September 2012 ( Data source: EU fleet register)