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Monthly Archive for December, 2009

Ministers listen to The End of the Line


As I dashed through the snow from the chaos around the COP15 climate conference to a screening of The End of the Line near the Town Hall in this lovely city, the phone went and I learned that European Ministers have done the right thing, arguably for the first time, in the annual talks over fish quotas, a story that might make headlines if it was not overshadowed by the climate talks.

They approved quotas based on scientific advice on North Sea cod, plaice and sole without discussion - instead of setting them at significantly more than scientists recommended as so often in recent years.

They also decided to ban fishing for the critically endangered porbeagle shark and cut allowable catches for the equally endangered spurdog.

What has come over them? Well partly it may have to do with an unprecedented spat with Norway over quotas, which will mean that these cannot be finalised until the New Year.

But I am also told that advisers have woken up to the fact that none of the major processers and retailers such as Birds Eye and Youngs are buying the North Sea cod because it is not being harvested sustainably.

Progressive ministers in Denmark, Germany and the UK have realised that the industry faces an uncertain future, and lower prices, unless it can sell its product across the whole market and this is behind the decision to bite the bullet, follow the scientific advice and manage the fishery properly. This is not before time, but to be applauded.

Could this have had anything to do with the fact that The End of the Line has been screened recently in all those countries?

Well, probably not directly, but indirectly the message that we in Europe can’t go on managing our seas like this seems to be getting through.


Subsidising extinction

Bluefin tuna - sometimes you just can’t believe how absurd the story gets.

Raul Romeva i Rueda and Charles Clover at ICCAT

Raul Romeva i Rueda and Charles Clover at ICCAT

News from WWF and a Green MEP show that over an eight-year period the EU bluefin tuna fishing industry received subsidies totalling €34.5m.

Yes folks, your tax helped fund the overfishing of a species now teetering on the very brink of extinction. A species that 21 out of 27 EU countries now think should be subject to an international trade ban.

Raül Romeva i Rueda, a Spanish Green MEP, received answers to parliamentary questions revealing the extent of subsidies which took place between 2000 and 2008.

Of the €34.5m total, some €33.5m was for the construction and modernisation of fishing vessels, and only a tiny proportion (€1m) for decommissioning boats.

These revelations come as the EU Commission and member states have to start readdressing their own thoughts on Atlantic bluefin. Last month’s ICCAT meeting in Brazil failed to close the fishery, and saw EU negotiators (led by France and Spain) pushing for the highest possible quotas.

This in itself was hypocrisy after three-quarters of EU member states had voted to support an international ban on the species - showing just how disproportionately powerful the lobby of the Mediterranean fishing nations is.

These new revelations make the whole EU bluefin story even more difficult to swallow, since the already lucrative trade in bluefin (which has escalated despite scientific warnings) has been made even more profitable with taxpayers’ money. And it’s not even as if the subsidies were targeted at supporting traditional or lower-impact methods of fishing - they also applied to the massive purse-seiners.

The beneficiaries of the money were Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain. In an amazing coincidence the six EU member states which blocked support for an international trade ban were Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain.

It really makes you wonder what the 21 other EU countries are getting out of this arrangement… and what exactly they will do next? The EU must come up with an agreed common position before the CITES meeting in March 2010.

Many countries like the UK have already publicly supported a full trade ban. This new illustration of just
how the countries blocking effective measures to protect this species are being subsidised to trash the species can surely only strengthen the case for such a ban.