Regionalisation was established to enable a bottom-up approach to fisheries governance by allowing lower-level authorities and stakeholders to step into the fisheries management process and design tailor-made management on a regional scale. A review has been undertaken to (i) provide improved understanding on how regionalisation has worked until now and how it has contributed to better fisheries management, and (ii) contribute information towards the European Commission report to the European Parliament and the Council on the functioning of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). This was achieved through a combination of literature reviews and stakeholder consultation through interviews, online survey and focus group discussions. Findings show that there are large differences in how regional groups operate and whether they have formal working procedures. The advisory councils (ACs) have clear working procedures and are transparent in the work that they do. However, this is not the case for the Member State Groups (MSGs), for which a lot of information regarding structure, working procedures and meeting outcomes are not publicly available. Regional or national interests can sometimes make it hard for stakeholders to work together in an AC. Despite this, ACs strive to form consensus advice. This can sometimes lead to advice being "watered down", because agreements are reached on the lowest common denominator. The onset of the landing obligation resulted in a large increase in the number of measures (i.e. discard plans) for several geographical areas. While European Commission (EC) officials acknowledge the importance of attending AC meetings, it appears in practice actual involvement is limited. This lack of involvement, as well as the lack of detailed feedback received from ECs regarding the advice provided, is considered problematic by AC management teams.
Overall, stakeholders feel that there are gains in participating in the regionalisation process stating that regionalisation has provided a useful channel for individuals to put their points across and discuss them with a broader spectrum of stakeholders as opposed to writing individual position papers. The distribution of the ACs (different seas basins) is also seen as a gain as it provides EU-wide fora for discussions in fisheries management issues. The direct and closely working among different institutions (EC, ACs, scientists, MSGs) is also seen as an advantage of regionalisation. Stakeholders however, feel that many of the perceived benefits from the regionalisation process have not yet been realised. Some indicate that they are generally dissatisfied that their advice is not sufficiently incorporated and therefore consider this as a loss to their participation. On the whole, regionalisation is necessary and has fulfilled its expectations although not in all fields. Regionalisation has given powers to Member States to perform functions that used to be the preserve of the EU. Without regionalisation, it would be difficult to get the same level of detail towards the various fisheries management and policy aspects. This is because, a one size fits all approach would miss a lot of detail and local specificities that apply in a particular sea basin. While regionalisation is seen as an improvement to the system that was there before 2004, stakeholders agree that more work is needed to apply regionalisation in practice. There is need for more transparency and more meaningful engagement and collaboration between AC, MSGs and EC.