The majority of MEPs voted in favour of the report on “a comprehensive EU fishery strategy in the Pacific region”. After the vote, European Parliament rapporteurs from different political groups shared their views in The Parliament magazine.
Carmen Fraga, the lead rapporteur in the EP fisheries committee, emphasised that: “The adoption of this report is very important, especially taking into account the renegotiation of the Cotonou Agreement.” She also explained that most models for EU–Pacific ACP (PACP) relations currently under discussion, such as the economic partnership agreement (EPA), are regional in their focus. However, the EP strategy proposes a regional framework that would be the basis for bilateral fishing agreements to evolve, in the long term, into a multilateral agreement that would both detail access conditions for EU fleets and centralise development aid for PACP countries.
On access to resources issues, the final report insists that the Vessel Day Scheme (VDS) “needs to be fully transparent and its provisions need to be improved and implemented by all its members, to enable it to fulfil its objectives and ensure full compatibility of measures taken both in the EEZs [exclusive economic zones] and on the high seas”. It further expresses its concern at the existence of IUU fishing in the area, and, “while acknowledging that there have been some improvements in fisheries governance, considers that insufficient progress has been made, especially as regards the introduction of basic tools to combat IUU fishing.” It calls on the EC “to include an explicit reference to the IUU regulation in the provisions of the EPA negotiated with the Pacific countries.”
Gesine Meissner (shadow rapporteur) welcomed the report, and emphasised that such a strategy was based on sustainability, partnership and the realisation that the EU fleet is only one player among others: “This is particularly important in the Pacific where very few EU-flagged vessels are fishing.” She regretted, however, that neither the Pacific countries nor the ACP group had been closely involved in the initiative.
The Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat stated that the strategy adopted was “based on inaccurate data”, particularly regarding the implementation of the Parties to the Nauru Agreement (PNA) VDS. They commented further that: “There are elements of the proposed strategy that are positive and which should be promoted. Unfortunately there are also certain negative aspects which could have been avoided had the PACP region been consulted on the strategy, particularly given its wide ranging implications for conservation and management measures, trade and development in the PACP region.”
According to the Pacific region, the EU’s concern over IUU fishing expressed in the report is exaggerated: “In the purse seine fishery all vessels are on a register, 100% are covered by [the] Vessels Monitoring Scheme (VMS), there is 100% observer coverage and compulsory in port transhipments.”
In the original report proposal, the articulation between the EP strategy – which addresses mainly access to resources and aid issues – and the trade aspects of EU–Pacific fisheries relations was to link further trade concessions with granting fishing licences. The proposal was rejected by most MEPs, mainly with the argument that conditioning ‘access to markets’ to ‘access to resources’ may lead to over fishing – a concern also expressed by the Pacific ACP region. This element is therefore absent from the final report and, apart from some specific proposals (for example, on the inclusion of a reference to the IUU regulation in the EPA) it is now unclear how the EP envisages this strategy fitting in with the EPA dynamic. However, taking into account the current difficulties in the Pacific–EU EPA negotiations, the EP strategy might provide a useful starting point for an open discussion with Pacific ACP partners, to help define future EU–PACP fisheries’ relations, which should primarily be based on sustainability of (tuna) resource exploitation and maximising long-term benefits for the region.