EU proposes overhaul of failing fisheries policy


Europe's fisheries chief called for an overhaul of the European Union's failing fisheries policies on Wednesday (13 July), and warned those EU countries that may seek to resist reform that business as usual is not an option.

The European Commission has estimated that 75% of EU stocks are currently overfished, and a third of the bloc's fleet will become commercially unviable in the long term without decisive action to tackle overfishing.

With the equivalent of 265,000 full-time workers employed in the EU fishing and processing industries, the sector wields considerable political power in some countries, which have opposed previous efforts by Brussels to reduce catches.

"The Commission underlines that our current policy does not work anymore," Greek EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki told a news conference in Brussels to present her proposals.

"We cannot afford business as usual. Maybe in the years before it was easier for the Commission, for governments and for the sector to close our eyes," Damanaki said.

"But we cannot do it anymore, because if we do, our children will see fish not on their plates, but only in pictures," she added.

Her proposals included a reduction in fishing for the most over-exploited stocks for a few years to allow them to recover by 2015 to a level where fishermen can catch and earn more than they do today – a level known as maximum sustainable yield.

To achieve this, the Commission proposed an end to the annual horse-trading between EU governments over fishing quotas, which in the past has resulted in catch limits being set above the maximum levels recommended by scientists.

Instead, where possible, EU governments should jointly agree longer-term regional plans based on scientific advice, which fix quotas for one or more fish stocks for several years at a time.

Damanaki also proposed a ban on fishermen throwing unwanted fish overboard, known as 'discards', which the Commission estimates happens to almost a quarter of all catches.

Fleet size

Environmental campaigners welcomed the Commission's proposals to reduce overfishing, but said the plans were too weak when it came to addressing the main driver of overfishing – the overcapacity of Europe's fishing fleet.

The European Union has the world's third-largest fishing fleet after China and Peru, with a total catch worth €8.2 billion in 2007.

With more than 80,000 EU-registered vessels competing to land dwindling numbers of fish, rows over fishing quotas regularly break out between major fishing nations such as Spain, France and Britain.

"Discards are a disgrace. The best way to tackle the problem is to stop overfishing [and] slim down the fishing fleet," said Greenpeace fisheries campaigner Saskia Richartz.

Damanaki said the biggest challenge would be to win support for her proposals by EU governments and lawmakers, who must now jointly approve the plans before they can become law from 2013.

"My difficulties now begin, because we have to persuade the member state governments and the sector, because without their cooperation we have nothing. The negotiations will be very hard," Damanaki said.

EURACTIV with Reuters

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.

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