Saturday, April 9

Designed for failure: A critique of the Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union

You might wonder why a banker is talking about fish? Well, there are many reasons, not least that I am a Bengali and fish is in my blood or fishy blood or bloody fish, but anyway, you get what I mean. Fish is integral to my culture :). But that’s the jokey reason, i am interested in fish because it is a crucial part of the world’s economic, political and environmental system. If you do not manage your fish stocks properly, you WILL get into trouble because unemployment in a vital sector will plunge, nutrition across the wider population will be impacted, the upstream and downstream impacts of lack of fish is huge, and so on and so forth. Being in a bank unfortunately guarantees that every problem will ultimately impact the banking system in some shape or form. Whether its to do with corporate funding, interest rates, bankruptcies, you name it, a bank has to handle it.

One would have expected that a supranational body like the EU, which was original designed for making sure that the Coal and Steel production in the core European Union countries was coordinated, could have handled something like the fish stocks in the EU? After all, the Europeans have been fishing for thousands of years, much longer than they have been making steel. But no. This paper bluntly puts in clear terms, the reasons why the European Union has spectacularly failed in managing its fish stocks via the Common Fisheries Policy and has inexorably lead to overfishing, massive unemployment in so many fishing communities around Europe, huge subsidy bills and basically screwed up the sea environment. So what were the issues?

1. Biological Issues: Every year, the scientists propose a sustainable level of fish stocks based upon a rather clear mathematical model based upon unexploited stock size, the maximum economic yield, the maximum sustainable yield and a precautionary lower biomass limit. Based upon this model, you know how much fish to catch. There are other factors such as when do juvenile fish become adults and start spawning, how many times do you want the fish to spawn before being caught, etc. Guess what? the European Commission and the Council of Ministers usually agree a limit circa 50% higher than what the scientists propose. Hmmm, that really helps guys.

2. Economic Issues: Fish stocks suffer from the problem of common goods, everybody owns fish and nobody owns them at the same time. Its like common pasture grounds where everybody can graze their cows but nobody has to take responsibility for the pasture. So individual motivation is to overfish and thus have overcapacity. If you provide fishing quotas to fishermen, which is comparatively economically efficient (even if you consider the 50% over permissioning from above), it still doesnt work efficiently as monopolies can form, quotas dont really address the issue of the catch size itself and finally this doesnt apply to fishermen from outside the political structure. Not much can be done about Japanese fishermen fishing off the economic zones in Europe, can you? And who will validate once the fishing boat lands up in a Japanese port? not the EU authorities anyway. In the EU’s case, subsidies have been given for developing boats, subsidising fuel, and so on and so forth. Totally distorted economic market in Europe.

3. Legal Issues: You have to have ONE regulatory / legal body to handle issues such as this. But no, the whole panoply of rules, regulations, decrees, courts, councils, and and and is just complex, non transparent, riddled with inefficiencies, cannot enforce suitably, and so on and so forth.

4. Political Issues: The fisheries ministers in the respective EU nations are not judged on the basis of how well they manage fish stocks on an European wide basis but on how much quota they manage to get for their own constituents. There is no minister representing the poor fish, see? So everybody goes about raping the fish and devil take the hindmost. Also because this is a slow decline, politicians do not take responsibility as they will be long gone by the time the populations actually collapse. Due to different election timelines, there is no consistent policy making either. Consequently, the European Fisheries policy frequently reduces to the lowest common denominator.

These are just few of the issues that we are facing. Looking at how the EU actually handled something that was huge and crucial such as the Bosnian Crisis, the Kosovo Crisis or even the Greek Debt Crisis, I am not sanguine how it will handle a situation like this with the fish stocks, but still, some attempts need to be made to address this problem from a multi disciplinary perspective.

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