Fisheries ministers from the 27-member bloc have given their unanimous backing to Commission proposals to combat illegal fishing and protect vulnerable marine ecosystems, in a move welcomed by European environmental groups.
Ministers adopted the regulations on Tuesday (24 June) during a meeting of the Agriculture and Fisheries Council, which took place in Luxembourg on 23-24 June.
A regulation on illegal fishing, which affects EU vessels outside of Community waters as well as foreign boats accessing European oceans, imposes sanctions on offenders proportionate to the value of the landed catch. It permits higher sanctions for repeated lawbreakers.
Ministers also decided to establish a common certification system with the aim of ensuring that IUU products do not enter the European market. “This is one action to simplify procedures and reduce the administrative burden,” said Slovenian Agriculture Minister and Council chair Iztok Jarc, while EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said the regulation “will ensure we have a single coherent framework for dealing with all EU vessels which operate away from home”.
Green groups hailed the adoption of the single authorisation mechanism, with Greenpeace’s Saskia Richartz declaring that “today’s decision will help limit destructive fisheries and benefit all those that are sticking to the rules”.
Meanwhile, the marine protection regulation will only allow fishing in protected areas where there is scientific proof that it does not cause damage to ecosystems, while vessels will require special permits to use bottom fishing gear.
The measures “will protect vulnerable marine ecosystems in the high seas not covered by regional fishery management organisations,” explained Jarc, as well as regulate “the fishing activities of EU vessels in restricted areas of the high seas”.
But environmental groups Greenpeace, WWF and Seas at Risk believe the measures do not go far enough, expressing their disappointment that “member states did not agree to freeze the footprint of these damaging fisheries through a depth limit for the deployment of bottom gears”.
In another development, EU fisheries ministers also backed the Commission’s decision to close the Mediterranean bluefin tuna fishery two weeks ahead of schedule on 16 June (for more on this issue, please consult our extensive coverage on euractiv.fr).