EU admits nine tenths of fish stocks are overfished

Europe’s fishing policy has failed and nearly nine tenths of its fish stocks are overfished, the European Commission has admitted.

The Commission published a Green Paper proposing radical reforms of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and began an open debate on the proposed measures which will last until the end of this year.

Among the proposals are:

  1. A ban on the “discarding” of under-sized and unmarketable fish at sea.
  2. Making the ecological sustainability of fish stocks the paramount objective of European policy, on which economic viability depends, rather than a factor to be weighed off against the survival of the fishing industry, as it is at present.
  3. Devolving decisions on the management of fisheries closer to the people they affect.

Launching the proposals, Joe Borg, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, said: “We are asking questions even on the fundamentals of the current policy and should leave no stone unturned.

“We are not looking for just another reform. It is time to design a modern, simple and sustainable system for managing fisheries in the EU, which is able to last well into the 21st century.”

The Green Paper analyses why, despite reform of the CFP in 2002, European fish stocks continue to be in trouble, with 88 per cent of stocks overfished, against a global average of 25 per cent.

Some 30 per cent of stocks are “outside safe biological limits”, i.e. they cannot reproduce at normal rate because the parenting population is too depleted.

Yet Europe’s politicians still allow fishermen to land 2 or 3 times more than what many stocks can sustain. This is mostly as a result of fleet overcapacity and what the paper calls “the absence of political will” towards compliance with limitations placed upon the catching sector.

The paper says overcapacity is economically inefficient because not only does it deplete stocks but it also constantly drives the industry’s profits down.

Among the measures proposed are secure “rights” or “catch shares” which guarantee individual fishermen certain amounts of fish, so they can fish when prices are most attractive and abandon the “race to fish.”

One of the most controversial proposals is an end to the principle of “relative stability” – the idea that each nation gets the same cut or increase in quota relative to the total resource – which has focused negotiations on the catch share, rather than the common good.

Huw Irranca-Davies, Britain’s fisheries minister, said the case for radical CFP reform was undeniable and pledged that the UK would play a “leading role”.

He said: “We need more emphasis on long-term planning supported by robust science.”

Richard Lochhead, the Scottish fisheries minister, said that the green paper highlighted the “devastating impact of micro-management on our vital fisheries industry”.

He added: “Greater power over fishing policy must be returned to Scotland.”

The consultation, which lasts until Dec 31 2009, is the first step in reforms which could be presented to the European Parliament in 2011 and be adopted in 2012.


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