EU ministers agree on overhaul of fishing rules

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European fisheries ministers have agreed to end decades of overfishing and ban throwing unwanted fish back into the sea to restore stocks to healthy levels by 2020.

The deal, which needs the approval of the European Parliament, could end haggling over annual fishing quotas and introduce long-term plans to grow fish stocks.

It will overhaul the Common Fisheries Policy, which dates from the 1970s and is widely regarded as a failure for allowing subsidised, industrial-sized fleets to devastate fish stocks.

The deal, which took 36 hours of negotiations until dawn on Wednesday (15 May), will introduce a ban on the practice of throwing undersized or unwanted fish back into the sea, often to die.

This would apply to mackerel and herring by 2015 and for other species from 2016. Some fish will be exempt.

Simon Coveney, the Irish agriculture and fisheries minister, had worked to find a compromise between the Council and the European Parliament, which had voted for tougher curbs on fishing.

“This agreement follows very difficult and complex negotiations, it amounts to a significant compromise on behalf of my fellow fisheries ministers to allow further negotiations with the European Parliament take place to finalise the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in the coming weeks,” said the minister, who headed the negotiations under Ireland’s rotating presidency of the EU Council.

“This decision by the Council is a major conciliatory step in the direction of the European Parliament and hopefully paves the way for successful conclusion of the inter-institutional negotiations on the reform,” he said.

About 80% of Mediterranean and 47% of Atlantic stocks are overfished, European Commission figures showed.

Campaign groups expressed disappointment and said they believed it would take longer than expected to replenish stocks. A World Wide Fund for Nature report said it would take more than 100 years for fish stocks to recover. 

Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director, was among those expressing disappointment with the deal and urged the Parliament to reverse course.

"The Parliament will need to decide whether to continue negotiations on the basis of this take-it-or-leave-it proposal from the Council. It must continue to represent the political and public support behind the recovery of our oceans for Europe to be able to safeguard its marine environment and keep its sustainable fishing sector alive,” Richartz said.

Irish MEP Pat the Cope Gallagher from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats (ALDE) and shadow on the basic regulation of the CFP, commented:

"I would like to pay tribute to the Presidency for their work in progressing this extremely important policy within the Council of Ministers. The new mandate will allow the Irish Presidency to resume negotiations with the European Parliament. It appears that some of the Parliament important issues have been addressed by Council."

British MEP Chris Davies from ALDE and leading member of the Fisheries Committee stated:

"This is not a done deal. Only once in a decade do we get the chance to make a real difference to Europe's fisheries policy and this time we have got to get it right for the next decade. MEPs must be satisfied that we are closing opportunities for backsliding and continued bad practice. The discard ban is worth nothing on paper if control is not assured. There are improvements that should still be made and we hope that the Council has room for manoeuvre.  It is unfortunate that Commissioner Damanaki, who was also present this morning at the meeting did not use this opportunity to comment further on the new Council text."

Maria do Céu Patrão Neves, a Portuguese MEP from the European People's Party (EPP) and member of the Fisheries Committee, welcomed the negotiating mandate obtained at the Council meeting with cautious optimism:

"In general, the Council's views are more balanced, realistic and practical, meeting the concerns and hopes of the fisheries sector."

The European Parliament on 6 February overwhelmingly backed reform to end decades of over-fishing and restore EU sea stocks to healthy levels by 2020.

The Common Fisheries Policy, which dates back to the 1970s, is widely regarded as a failure.

It has allowed subsidised, industrial-sized fleets to devastate fish stocks, while eurosceptics have scorned it as bureaucratic.

The revised policy, to take effect in 2014, is designed to enforce sustainable catch limits.

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