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«Europe and the Tragedy of the Commons: A detailed analysis of the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) euryopa Institut européen de ...»

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Once using resources capable of regeneration, one always has to decide on either short or long term benefits. Fisheries tend to be managed more effectively when deciding on long term benefits. In spite of that, the difficulty of marine resources is their common property status and the deficiency of clearly allocated individual property rights. The present situation does in fact favour short term fisheries activities by encouraging fishermen to optimize benefit maximisation, thus the overexploitation of fish stock (although TACs have been introduced to guide catches). Every fisherman will of course try to obtain the maximum self benefit rather than leaving the gains to others. Fortunately this is not the exact present state of affaires. Since the seventies, the state is the main actor in a 25 EUROPÄISCHE KOMMISSION, Grünbuch, Die Zukunft der Gemeinsamen Fischereipolitik, Band II, Luxembourg, Amt für amtliche Veröffentlichungen der Europäischen Gemeinschaften, 2001, p. 55.

Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 13 responsible fish resource management and fixes the volume of allowable catches in discussions with the Community. Besides, the state will always remain the key player in fisheries management as the largest part of the world fishery potential is located within areas of national jurisdiction. This does however not hinder the Commission in imposing legally binding conservation and management regulations upon MS as the Commission and the Council will act in accordance with RACs technical and scientific advice26. Recommendations on the volume of catches given by the CFP were not legally binding and could be evaded. Marine biologists had already been consulted concerning the condition of fish stocks then and the intention was to fix volume of catches according to their advice. The following problems arose and are

still of relevance today:

• Results from scientific assessments towards fish resources and recommendations given for sustainable management based on these reports were generally ignored with the excuse of imprecision. Reductions and solid economic cuts could not have been justified in front of fishermen with the presented facts.

• The absence of short term guideline systems with the definition of goals and achievements of sustainable fish stock protection measures did not motivate and persuade fishermen to pursue sustainable fishing activities.

• The knowledge and awareness of complicated marine ecosystem functions is still modest. It is not astonishing therefore that the regeneration/recovering potential of fish resources was seriously underestimated27.

Nowadays it is confirmed that short term recovery measures do more harm than good. Positive achievements are a rarity, the contrary the norm. Fish resources worldwide are limited whereas the amount of fishing vessels can be multiplied without great 26 The management and conservation proposal originate from the concerned national parties themselves.

27 WWF, Fette Jahre – Magere Jahrzehnte, Kosten der Überfischung von

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difficulty. The EU finances modernisation and construction of new vessels with enhanced technology via subsidies – investments in the conservation and recovery of fish resources have been scarce in the past. Indeed, the use of all natural resources must follow strict regulations with the principle objective of sustainable protection followed by personal economic benefits or national interests.

National interests are regrettably still a driving force in European fisheries up to present.

Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 15


The European Common Fisheries Policy The need for the CFP "Fish resources are acknowledged as being a common heritage to the people"28. Although the fishing sector might seem to be a small industry compared to others, the complexity of this heritage and the impact it has on the European Union and its citizens should not be underestimated. Throughout this paper we will see that fishing and aquaculture are important economic activities in and to the European Union. While the fishing sector only contributes less than 1% to the gross national product of the Member States, it also hosts a significant number of workplaces in the Community, which amounts to roughly 270 000 directly employed fishermen in 199529.

In some areas of the European Union, predominantly coastal areas, fishing has been a long tradition and is the primary economy and source of income. Usually there are few employment alternatives in those regions, which forces the citizens to depend on fishing. This number only represents a small percentage of the Community’s workforce, which justifies the question of why so much attention is devoted to this economy sector.

Edward Nevin has a simple response to this. He argues that the fishing industry attracts a certain degree of "[…] political attention […]"30. One important factor is, as already mentioned above, that the fishing industry represents whole coastal areas and regions, so if ever there emerges a problem in the fishing industry due to political 28http://europa.eu.int/comm./dgs/fisheries/missn_en.htm.


30 Edward NEVIN, "The Common Fisheries Policy (Chapter 16)" in

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decisions, the communities could exert measures which impede on regional politicians31.

However, more attention should be drawn to the technical aspects for the need of a common policy of the industry. As it is commonly known fishermen need a product which is obviously fish. The natural environment of fish is water; they can live in lakes, rivers or large seas like the North Sea or the Atlantic for example. Fishing is an industry with no set boundaries; it is conducted across and beyond territorial frontiers in national and international waters. Additionally, until the 1970’s fishermen could not only decide freely on where they conducted their fishing but also on how much they were going to fish. There was hence neither a technical limit on the amount nor in space, with the exception of the famous 12-mile-limit around the coastal borders of any country.

Within this 12-mile radius, fishermen of that specific country or, who had traditionally fished in those zones could claim historical fishing rights32. After WWII the fishing and vessel technology experienced a rapid change and advance. Vessels were equipped with the newest technology to find fish much quicker or to even conserve them on board which made the time-consuming return to the ports for discharging unnecessary. The new technology of conserving fish on board introduced the era of the industrial fishing industry. Vessels took on factory-like dimensions and fish were directly dealt with and prepared on board and kept refrigerated or frozen until the floating fish factory returned to the ports, sometimes weeks after its departure.

This technological breakthrough obviously resulted in higher fishing outcomes and a higher output. This phenomenon posed a serious problem over the years as the fishing industry is frequently described as suffering from income inelasticity for one simple reason: Fish is a natural resource that cannot be produced by machines. Furthermore, it takes four to five years for fish to become fertile for reproduction, this varying of course on the type of specie.

The fishing industry however ignores this important aspect, as for 31 For example, no re-election etc.

32 Edward NEVIN, "The Common Fisheries Policy (Chapter 16)", op. cit.

Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 17 them the reproduction of fish stock is slow and time consuming.

Therefore they even catch young fish that should be left in order to supply new fish stock. Unlike the traditional theory of production increase if the demand increases, this theory is not applicable in terms of natural resources, like fish. "The higher fishing output is drawn from a stock that does unfortunately not increase with the efficiency of their hunters"33.

The increasing demand and catch in fish with a relatively stable fish stock was sooner or later causing severe problems, even biological disasters. This is very often described with the famous terminology of the Tragedy of the Commons34. Let us take the herring disaster in the North Atlantic as a quick example of the impact that overfishing already had by the 1970s. Between 1965 and 1975, herring stocks diminished by 1 million tonnes (a drop from 1.5 million to 0.5 million within ten years) 35. The reason for this was obviously that the herring population in North Atlantic fell below a point of ensuring sustainable reproduction. In order to avoid an extinction of the herring species a fishing ban was imposed.

A dramatic impact on European Community fishing appeared with a modification in international law concerning the rights of fishermen working in international waters. As earlier mentioned, the fishing industry is not restricted in space, hence fishermen can also pursue their interest in territorial waters not belonging to their country of origin. In 1971, Iceland declared exclusive fishing rights within a 50-mile-radius and later even 200-miles within its coastline, thus banning other fishermen from this area and extending it from the former 12-mile-radius36. Yet, the most 33 Ibid.

34 Description of overexploitation, first used by Garret HARDIN in his famous essay in 1968; see previous chapter.

35 Edward NEVIN, "The Common Fisheries Policy (Chapter 16)", op. cit., p. 177.

36 These territorial claims led to the famous “Cod War” between Iceland and the UK; two NATO allies were on the brink of war in the 1970s.

Hannes H GISSUARSON, Overfishing: The Icelandic Solution, IEA, 18 Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" profound decision was formulated by the United Nations in 1973, which allowed the establishment of an Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) up to 200 miles from the country’s coastline. This particularly angered community fishermen, who had traditionally pursued fishing in the waters of Iceland, Norway and especially Canada before 1973. In fact, approximately a quarter of the community fishing harvest originated from these waters37. As a result of the newly emerging competing markets to the EC market, the Community had to resolve this problem by establishing a cooperation or merger of the fishing industries in the EC. The result was a Common Fisheries Policy.

The emergence of the CFP

The Common Fisheries Policy is a community instrument for the management of fisheries and was created in order to manage common fish resources and meet the original Treaty obligations. In 1966, the Commission argued that according to Article 38 of the Treaty of Rome the EC requires the institution of a Common Fisheries Policy with direct effect to all Member States38. The Commissions position was eventually being accepted after the new introduction of EEZs, which made fishing in international waters harder for community fishermen. The CFP declared fish a common European resource with access for everyone. By the same token, the CFP should guarantee free access to community waters with the exception of a 12-mile exclusive fishing zone to those countries whose major industry relies on fishing. This equally facilitated the life of small fishing industries with smaller vessels, which profited from the exclusive zone, as big industrial vessel factories from other nations would not be able to fish the coastline empty.


London, 2000, p. 12, Werner WEIDENFELD, (ed.), Europa Handbuch, Bonn, Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2002, p. 427.

37 Edward NEVIN, "The Common Fisheries Policy (Chapter 16)", op. cit.

38 Stephan DEARDON & Frank MCDONALD (ed.), European Economic Integration, third edition, Harlow, Longman, 1999, p. 297.

Europe and the "Tragedy of the Commons" 19 Nonetheless, until the CFP came actually into being in 1983, many negotiations and disputes proceeded. Fishing nations were at that time already aware of the phenomenon of the exploitation of fish stock and feared a complete extinction of some species if no measures were to be introduced to protect them. Fish stock need to rebuild themselves and for this to happen small fish need to be left aside to allow reproduction. Aware of the competition on the market, fishermen however did not pay much attention to this39, ignoring the logical fact that if small fish were not left for reproduction, the fish stock would rapidly decline and in the end the waters would be empty. Without fish, fishermen are unemployed….

Fishermen depend on fish; therefore they should treat their source of income more respectfully with a long term commercial interest on their behalf.

The Community tried to resolve this problem by introducing Total Allowable Catches (TAC) which are fixed annually by the Council of Ministers after negotiations with the Member States concerned, and by taking the country’s past catching record into consideration. Setting TACs involves fixing a maximum national quota of caught fish from specific species over a certain period of time for each Member State40. When the quota has been exhausted the fishery must be closed. It is aimed at a community wider fish stock conservation. However, fish are not all equal. Some species such as cod spend the first years of their life in areas near the Dutch, German or Danish coast before immigrating into the territorial waters of the United Kingdom41.

Moreover, not all species reside in the same waters when they are old enough to be caught, as the cod and not all species share the same value on the fish market. All these aspects need to be looked at very carefully. Elaborating on the example of cod, it is prohibited to catch young fish that have not yet reproduced themselves, so by 39 They notably did not want to waste their precious time on separating old fish from young fish and drop them back into the sea.

40 http://europa.eu.int./comm/ op. cit.

41 Micheal MCCARTHY, "Fishing industry falls victim of the tragedy of

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the time the cod is catchable it has moved to the UK. If unfortunately the cod is within the 12-mile-exclusive-zone, German, Dutch and Danish fishermen cannot catch the cod.

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