Facilitators rather than regulators: EU’s new role with respect to fisheries

December 2016

By: Ward Warmerdam

In November, Profundo was invited to the EU Commission’s Committee on Fisheries to present the conclusions of a scoping study on possible measures at the EU-level to promote equity and social justice in the EU seafood industry. A key conclusion of the study was that facilitation measures such as EU-level online platforms are more appropriate for the fisheries sector than regulatory measures.

A main reason for this is that the tension between EU jurisdiction and the principle of subsidiarity, i.e. that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen, is increasingly strong. The Total Allowable Catch (TAC) fish quota management system, introduced by the EU Common Fisheries Policy, offers a clear example. In order to maintain environmentally and economically sustainable fisheries, the TAC mechanism gives European countries an annual quotum on the basis of the total available TACs and their traditional share. At a national level, in line with the principle of subsidiarity, these quotas are further divided according to a nation’s own fisheries management system. While this system is designed to protect fish stocks, fishermen have been directly affected by the resulting constraints on their productivity. Moreover, a large proportion of small-scale fishermen were gradually driven out of the sector, being replaced by larger companies. It should be noted, however, that the impact has been different in different countries. This has translated into an anti-EU sentiment among fishermen who believe that Brussels does not always have their best interests in mind.

As part of the scoping study, Profundo researched the drivers and mechanisms of company integration, that is investments in peers and investments up or down the value chain through company structure analyses and stakeholder interviews. The scoping study found that the levels and mechanisms of vertical and horizontal integration differed throughout Europe. The differences are partly explained by a number of factors: fisheries managements system, national total allowable catch, relative stability keys, fleet size, cost of integration, ease of access to market, firm performances and by national level regulations and incentive schemes adopted in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. It is, therefore, difficult to develop EU level regulation to promote equity and social justice in the seafood industry.

To deal with this challenge, the EU could play an enabling rather than regulatory role. EU institutions could support efforts to promote equity and social justice in the seafood industry through the deployment of two types of EU-level online platforms. The first could facilitate trading, renting, borrowing and swapping of quotas among fishermen all over the EU. The second would introduce an EU-level online fish auction, creating price transparency, expanding market access, guaranteeing and insuring sale and quality. Both measures could improve the commercial stability and performance of small-scale and larger fishermen. This could limit the consolidation of the seafood industry into increasingly bigger fishing companies, which would also beneficial for the sustainability of the sector.

At a time when the role of the EU in the seafood industry is being called into question and there is serious doubt about the rationale and benefits of EU decisions to ordinary citizens, promoting equity and social justice through facilitation rather than regulation seems particularly appropriate.

For more information or research opportunities on this topic, please contact: Ward Wamerdam (

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