EU Fisheries Council sails into troubled waters

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The EU Fisheries Council meeting on Monday will direct Europe’s fishing fleets to confine their trawling off the coast of developing countries exclusively to “surplus resources” of fish, according to draft council conclusions seen by EURACTIV.

This would give priority access to local fishermen, who depend on the seas for their communities’ dietary needs.

“Due account should be taken of the coastal states' priorities in favour of its own fishing sector, while the Union should seek an appropriate share of the surplus resources,” the document says.

But the conclusions stop short of measures that would reduce Europe’s fleet capacity, a politically contested safeguard against further depletion of the world’s rapidly dwindling fish stocks.

“This is the root of the problem,” Saskia Richartz, a Greenpeace spokeswoman told EURACTIV. “There are just too many boats, and not enough fish – and that encourages illegal fishing and overfishing, including by large EU trawlers in the developing world.”

Greenpeace claims that in just 10 hours on 14 March, their ship the Arctic Sunrise took action to stop seven “EU mega-trawlers” – which can each catch up to 250 tonnes of fish a day – from hoovering up marine life off the West African coast.

The change on Monday would establish guidelines for making such practices illegal.

Marine biodiversity

Protecting marine biodiversity is an EU policy goal, with implications for the continent’s fish-eaters and fishing communities alike. 

An EU communication last July instructed member states to “put in place measures to adjust the fishing capacity of their fleets in order to achieve an effective balance between such fishing capacity and their fishing opportunities”.

But no deadline was attached, and the EU’s reformed Common Fisheries Policy last year also called for the issue to be addressed globally, perhaps with one eye on the gathering storm over the EU’s inclusion of foreign airlines in the Emissions Trading System.

“A high-level [international] conference to discuss ways of reducing capacity will be called for by the EU by 2013 to pave the way for a process aimed at addressing overcapacity at a global level,” the document said.

Discarding declaration

Environmentalists’ fears that the issue is being sidelined may be heightened if, as reported, France and Spain issue a declaration at today’s EU Fisheries Council aimed at blocking EU plans to ban the practice of discarding less profitable – but still edible – fish in the sea.

The Guardian newspaper reported last week that an EU compromise allowing fishermen to land all the fish they catch in exchange for compensation has met with strong opposition, centred around companies with industrial-scale vessels.

At least a million tonnes of fish and other sea animals caught in the North Sea alone are discarded every year, according to a recent World Wildlife Fund report.

The discards amount to about one-third of the entire North Sea catch, the report said.

EU fisheries subsidies were introduced in the 1970s to boost fish production by supporting investment in larger and more efficient fleets. Over time, the subsidies helped to create significant overcapacity in the sector, leading to overfishing and stock depletion.

The subsidy regime has evolved since then, and there has been a shift in focus towards balancing fleet sizes to available fish stocks. One of the aims of the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), the financial component of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) - which ran between 2000 and 2006 with €4.119 billion - was to "contribute to achieving a balance between fisheries resources and their exploitation".

The European Fisheries Fund (EFF) succeeded the FIFG and will run for the 2007-13 period with a total budget of around €3.8 billion. It also aims to "support sustainable exploitation of fisheries resources and a stable balance between these resources and the capacity of Community fishing fleet".

In 2008, the European Commission launched a review of the Common Fisheries Policy with the aim of achieving a "major" overhaul of the policy by 2012.

* 2013: EU to call international conference on over-capacity of world fishing fleets

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