A yearly haggling over the North-East Atlantic quotas

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School of european seabasses (Dicentrarchus labrax). Seamount El Cuervo, SW Sisargas islands, Galicia, Spain. Catamaran Oceana Ranger Atlantic Cantabric Expedition. June 2008. [Oceana]

Europe is fast approaching a 2020 deadline by when fishing at sustainable levels will become the rule. In the EU alone, restoring stocks would result in an estimated 2 million tonnes increase in catches per year, contributing €5 billion more per year to EU economies, explains Lasse Gustavsson.

Lasse Gustavsson is the executive director of Oceana in Europe, the world’s largest international advocacy organisation focused solely on marine conservation.

On 11 and 12 December, EU fisheries ministers will gather in Brussels, as they do every year, to decide on the 2018 fishing quotas for the Atlantic and the North Sea. This year’s meeting is of the utmost importance, given the fact that the EU is only two years away from reaching the legally-binding 2020 deadline to fish all its stocks at sustainable levels.

Last year’s negotiations of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council resulted in continued overfishing in the region, as politicians set catch limits, which for half of the stocks surpassed scientific recommendations and ignored the fact that 41% of European Atlantic stocks, including those in the North Sea, are currently overfished.

That explains why the saithe, which is highly consumed in France, is commonly replaced by imported Alaskan Pollock that mostly originates from countries outside the EU.

This blatant ignorance of science-based catch limits has been going on for years. Politicians have been emptying our seas by taking irresponsible decisions based on short-term interests and today we can see very visible results; dwindling fish stocks in North-East Atlantic waters, and 41% of overfishing in the region.

Reports by the European Commission and by its Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) warn that many stocks are still fished above levels that harm their populations and that the recovery progress made so far is too slow.

In effect, there is still a significant gap between sustainable EU fisheries management on paper and the actual management of fisheries in our seas. Overexploitation of fish stocks is not only threatening the balance of EU marine ecosystems but has also led to a loss of jobs and income in the fishing sector and related industries.

However, according to experts, we can turn this scenario around by restoring our fisheries and bringing back abundant and healthy oceans. With urgent measures and concrete actions based on a solid long-term vision, we may avoid being the last generation to catch food from the oceans.

Earlier this year, Oceana published a new study looking into the social and economic benefits of thriving, healthy fisheries. There’s no doubt that more fish in the oceans will generate more food, more jobs and more money.

The recipe is very simple: if we stop overfishing and replenish the fish stocks to sustainable levels, in less than a decade, the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) could see an increase of almost 5 billion euros a year. And big fishing nations like France, Italy, UK, Spain and Denmark are among the countries that could reap the most benefits.

Additionally, the study explains that more fish in the oceans would allow creating 92.000 new full-time jobs, with the largest increase in the wider economy (in sectors such as food, retail, services), more than 60% of new employment opportunities.

Rebuilding European fisheries makes good business sense, as one job in the fishing sector can produce three more jobs in fisheries-related areas. This is extremely important for a country like Spain, that has been hit hardest by the economic crisis and which could now see the largest increase in jobs, with an additional 7.300 full-time positions.

Profitable fisheries also mean a better allocation of taxpayers’ money. The European Union spends around 935 million euros annually on subsidies to the fishing industry (including direct income for fish workers and fuel for the EU’s fishing fleet), some of which are potentially harmful to the sector.

That’s an immense waste of public money which should be stopped right away. In a situation where fish are harvested sustainably, the fishing industry could benefit from an extra €817 million.

Equipped with scientific data in one hand and regulatory tools in the other, EU fisheries ministers have little excuse to stop overfishing before it’s too late. The positive benefits for the oceans, society and economy are clearer than ever before. The only thing that Europe needs now is political will and politicians with a vision for long-term conservation.