EU to increase fishing of some species, cut others

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European Union ministers reached a deal yesterday (15 December) to reduce many of next year’s fish quotas for overexploited species, while cautiously increasing others to ensure the livelihood of fishermen.

“I am delighted to say that we have reached an agreement for fish quotas for 2010,” said Eskil Erlandsson, agriculture minister for Sweden, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. 

“The quotas were based on scientific advice. Quotas have been reduced for sensitive stocks and cautiously increased for other stocks,” Erlandsson told a news conference in Brussels. 

The ministers agreed to cut total allowable catches (TAC) for main species such as haddock, sole and cod by between 20-25% in 2010 from this year’s volumes, and increased the number of hake catches by 15% as stock concerns ease. 

“Although many reductions have been necessary, we have done our utmost to lessen the short-term burden for the fisheries sector,” said EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg. 

The ministers also partially lifted a ban on anchovy fishing in the Bay of Biscay, requested by France and Spain, after a good indication of stock recovery following recent surveys. 

“We have allowed for a fishery of 7,000 tonnes starting from January 2010, on the understanding that this figure will move up or down depending on the outcome of scientific advice in spring,” Borg said. 

Although many species remained over-fished, a small but increasing number of stocks were now being fished at maximum sustainable yield levels, said Borg, adding that over-fishing was declining and could be phased out by 2015. 

The 27-nation bloc maintained a total ban on fishing for porbeagle, a predatory shark, which it considers as critically endangered in the North Atlantic. 

The deal reached on Tuesday is provisional until an agreement is reached with Norway. 

Negotiations with Norway, with which the EU shares fishing stocks in the North Sea, collapsed last week over the management of mackerel stocks. 

“This [provisional agreement] should allow for fishing activities to continue next January to give time to conclude negotiations with Norway,” Borg said. 

Meanwhile, the European Commission is currently consulting stakeholders on the future direction of its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and will publish conclusions of this debate in early 2010. 

The EU executive expects the reformed CFP to come into force in 2013. 

(EURACTIV with Reuters.

Hailing a deal to allow new fishing trials in a bid to improve scientific evidence on fish stock conservation and to reduce discards, UK Fisheries Minister Huw Irranca-Davies said he had pushed for the agreement "so that we can match the science with what actually happens at sea". 

"Sound science is essential in helping to conserve fish stocks while also allowing the industry to thrive. I know the industry is fully behind these trials and I look forward to working with them as they progress," he added.

Commenting on the outcome of the Council as a whole, Irranca-Davies said "although we have not secured a perfect-world agreement on everything […], we have won […] important concessions [on quotas] based on sound arguments to back our position". 

Describing the ministers' decision to slash quotas as "a slap in the face with a wet fish" for Scottish fishermen, UK Conservative MEP Struan Stevenson, who sits on the European Parliament's fisheries committee, said "the cold reality is that UK fishermen are facing even tougher times next year" as a result of the ministers' decisions. 

"Pleas from the fishermen to be allowed to increase their catches have fallen on deaf ears," Stevenson said, complaining that "inadequate science, a harsh regulatory regime, poor financial rewards and dangerous working conditions – the hallmark of fifty years of the Common Fisheries Policy – have rendered the job almost untenable". 

WWF, an environmental NGO, welcomed ministers' decision to introduce a new system of catch quotas with a view to reducing fish waste in the North Sea, describing the development as "an effective step in the direction of finally solving the problem of discards and making governments and industry responsible for the way they manage their fisheries". 

"At the advent of a three-and-a-half year debate on the Common Fisheries Policy reform, yesterday's actions show that some governments and industries are ready to take decisions that are in the long-term interests of a sustainable and profitable fisheries sector," said Aaron McLoughlin, head of the European Marine Programme at WWF's European Policy Office. 

But Xavier Pastor, executive director for Europe at Oceana, another NGO, commented after yesterday's meeting that "the type of management being developed maintains stocks in a state of permanent over-exploitation". 

Claiming that "the new fisheries management objective is clearly sustainable overexploitation," Pastor warned "stocks are so low that the catch is 20 times lower than 10 years ago". 

Meanwhile, José Rodríguez, a marine scientist at Oceana, slammed ministers' decision to open the anchovy fishery in the Bay of Biscay. "I don't know where the politicians who have been fighting to open [it] will be in a few years. Unfortunately, we don't know where the fishermen will be either. We can be certain, though, that the anchovy as we knew it a few years ago will no longer be there," he said. 

Describing the Council's decision to end all fishing for porbeagle sharks and reduce by 90% fishing quotas for spurdog as "a solid performance on the first big test of the new EU Action Plan for Sharks," Sonja Fordham, EU shark policy director for the Pew Environment Group and the Shark Alliance, said "ministers have acted in line with the Plan's pledge to follow scientific advice and a precautionary approach when setting fishing limits for inherently vulnerable sharks". 

"Ending fisheries for critically endangered porbeagle and spurdog will allow European populations to recover while enhancing the EU's ability to promote conservation of the species on a global scale," said Fordham. 

EU agriculture and fisheries ministers meet at the end of each year to adopt fishing quotas for European fishermen – known as the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) - for the year to come. 

This year's meeting, held in Brussels on 14-16 December, took place under the chairmanship of the Swedish EU Presidency. 

In 2008, the EU launched a review of its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) "to make it more efficient in ensuring the economic viability of the European fleet, conserving fish stocks, integrating with maritime policy and providing good quality food to consumers". 

On 22 April 2009, the European Commission published a Green Paper inviting stakeholders to contribute to the debate on the future CFP, with a view to publishing "conclusions" on the direction of the reform in early 2010. 

The EU executive hopes the reformed CFP will come into force in 2013. 

  • Early 2010: Commission hopes to reopen negotiations with Norway. 
  • First half of 2010: Commission to publish outcome of consultation on CFP reform. 
  • 2013: Commission expects reformed CFP to come into force. 

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