THE European Court of Auditors (ECA) last week published the results of an audit looking into certain EU fisheries agreements (SPFAs) with non-EU countries

The Commission considers this audit exercise as a positive opportunity for improving the framework of the EU’s bilateral relations with third countries in the field of fisheries.

The auditors found that the agreements were generally well managed, but expressed a number of reservations. Many have already been recognised by the Commission and have been anticipated and addressed through the reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy in 2013/2014, which has led to substantial improvements in the bilateral agreements concluded since then and which are not subject of the ECA’s audit.

The Commission’s overall concern is to ensure that fisheries are both economically and environmentally sustainable in the long term and are cost-effective. Thus the Commission strives to ensure that each SFPA makes use of the best available scientific advice and delivers value for money. When this was not achievable, the Commission has suspended negotiations. Furthermore, the Commission’s new agreements include provisions to improve implementation and monitoring, while at the same time strengthening the governance of the fisheries concerned.

In the case of highly migratory species such as tuna, it is impossible to anticipate the level of catches. Catches may not always attain the negotiated quantities for climatic and environmental reasons. However the negotiated quantities take into consideration the historic catches and the estimated availability of resources. In that context, it should be highlighted that the price paid by the EU is above all the outcome of a negotiation aiming at getting access to a certain fishing zone and thus contributing to supporting third countries’ efforts in favour of the sustainable management of their fisheries and the development of the sector. The total EU financial contribution also depends on other factors such as the evolution of market prices, the operational facilities and conditions offered to EU vessels by coastal States, the trends in the development of the fleet as well as the willingness that third countries demonstrate to improve the governance of their fisheries.

With the aim of decreasing the public spending on the access part of these SFPAs, one of the main improvements to be highlighted is that in the newly negotiated Protocol, the cost of access borne by the EU has decreased while the financial contribution supported by the ship-owners has steadily increased to let the private sector assume the major share of the financial risk of these fishing activities.

Regarding the perceived data discrepancies, it should be noted that they mostly relate to provisional data that require verification and validation by scientific institutes, which are then provided to the EU and to the partner country. This results in final data which are consistent and reliable.

Improvements introduced by the CFP reform include standardising the methodology used for evaluating Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPA), achieving greater consistency with other EU policies such as development policy, carrying out more sophisticated monitoring and verification of catches through IT tools and scientific verification, and monitoring financial support for the local fisheries sector more closely, which has led to a suspension of payments on a number of occasions. As a result, SFPAs have been recognised by most stakeholders and other EU institutions as an attractive tool regulating the activity of the EU external fleet in a highly regulated and transparent manner.

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