EU moves to tackle illegal fishing

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Ahead of new proposals to tighten controls on illegal fishing in EU waters, Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg told ministers yesterday (18 February) that the phenomenon remains a major cause for concern due to “serious shortcomings” in the enforcement of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Speaking at an informal Council meeting organised by the Slovenian presidency, Commissioner Borg said that despite spending €400 million a year on controls – €200m of which goes on controls at sea – catch registration remained unreliable, verification and cross-checking of data were inadequate and false catch declarations were being made. 

The need for tighter controls is considered urgent as stocks of species such as cod, haddock and bluefin tuna have seen dramatic collapses in recent decades, triggering extinction fears. 

Enforcement of EU rules is currently the responsibility of member states, but weaknesses in fisheries controls were “putting the entire Common Fisheries Policy into question,” said Borg. He declared the current system to be “so inefficient that it jeopardises our efforts to achieve sustainable exploitation and long-term management of stocks”. 

A new, “simpler” policy is being prepared and yesterday’s discussions would contribute to this, indicated Borg. The debate was “very productive” and EU ministers were “united” in calling for the regime to be “thoroughly reformed”, added Slovene Fisheries Minister Iztok Jarc. 

The new policy would take an “integrated approach to control […] based on harmonisation and cost effectiveness” by focusing on auctions, markets and imports as well as catches and landings, Borg said. 

Last December, a report from the European Court of Auditors warned that overfishing linked to major shortcomings in the EU’s fisheries management system was endangering European fish stocks (see EURACTIV 06/12/07). Unreliable catch data, inappropriate mechanisms for following up infringements and imposing sanctions and limited effectiveness of inspections were identified as the main problems. 

Oceana Europe Director Xavier Pastor said “long-term policies to ensure the recovery of Europe’s badly depleted fish stocks” were required, as well as “strong fisheries control to prevent overfishing and illegal activities” and “measures to reduce the huge overcapacity of the European fleet”. 

Meanwhile, on 31 January 2008 Parliament called for fishermen to stop “discarding” healthy fish in order to comply with EU quotas, giving its backing to two pilot schemes to that effect (see EURACTIV 01/02/08). 

The Commission will present its proposals for a new common fisheries control regulation in October 2008. It will enter into force in 2010, presuming it is adopted on schedule in the Council by the end of 2009. 

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