Plans agreed by EU agriculture ministers to return fish stocks to safe biological limits have come under fire from environmental groups – just as the Commission is showcasing its record on green policy at a special Brussels event.
The Council agreed two multi-annual management plans on 11 June 2007 – one for Baltic Sea cod and one for North Sea sole and plaice – and two multi-annual recovery plans, one for bluefin tuna and one for the European eel. They also agreed on a similar plan for North Sea flat-fish.
Fisheries and Maritime Affairs Commissioner Joe Borg described the agreement as “a welcome sign that the EU has begun to apply the maximum sustainable yield approach” to fishing. However, he warned that for the plan to be truly effective, new quotas will have to be set by the end of the year.
Greenpeace criticised the Council agreements as “making woefully light of the critical state of stocks”, while the WWF called the agreement “farcical.”
Accusing the Council of putting political deals above scientific advice, Greenpeace policy advisor Saskia Richartz claimed that France and Italy only agreed to the recovery plan once rules on minimum fish sizes that can be landed were put on ice for another year.
Meanwhile, Aaron McLoughlin – head of the WWF European Marine Programme – claimed that the plan “legitimises the over-exploitation of bluefin tuna stocks”. Accusing the EU of irresponsibility, he claimed that there is “little hope left” of avoiding the collapse of bluefin tuna stock.
Scientists advise major fishery closures during the spawning season for bluefin tuna, and rules on a minimum landing size, while recommending that the total allowable catch be halved. They believe that similarly urgent action is required to replenish Baltic cod and European eel populations, with the levels of young eels joining the stock having dropped to 1% of historic levels.
Greenpeace believe that the United States is taking the lead on sustainable fishing, leaving the EU trailing in their wake. “Unlike the EU, the United States has adopted rules that prohibit fishing at rates that exceed scientifically recommended levels,” observed Richartz. “The US has […] designated the largest fully protected marine reserve on the planet. The EU, on the other hand, continues to dish out fishing rights based on political expediency.”
The criticism comes as an embarrassment to the EU, just as the Commission is showcasing its biodiversity action plan as part of its Green Week event on 12-15 June.
More encouragingly, describing the agreement over eels as “a positive move”, WWF believes that the EU recovery plan provides hope that eel stocks will rebuild to a sustainable level.