Opinion

EU fisheries: little learned 20 years later

11.06.12 @ 09:25

  1. By Xavier Pastor

BRUSSELS - EU ministers will gather in Brussels on Tuesday (12 June) for a crucial vote on the general approach for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

  • The EU is sending its fleets to fish deeper and further out at sea (Photo: Bruno de Giusti)

The developments of these last few weeks indicate that the European Parliament - the Council of Ministers' equal partner for the first time on fisheries issues - has already shown much more ambition than many national governments. Indeed, the direction of the council's discussions is worrying.

A meeting last month clearly showed that that only a very small minority of member states is truly willing and ready to transform fisheries management in Europe.

Member states have consistently disregarded scientific recommendations and the EU continues to spend millions of euros on subsidies to artificially maintain an oversized and unprofitable fleet.

Instead of tackling the depletion in Europe's own waters, the EU is sending its fleet to fish deeper and further out at sea - therefore also contributing to the exhaustion of other countries' vital fisheries resources. This is a cycle that cannot be sustained. It goes against both nature and the economy.

There can be no social and economic benefits if the environment, which provides the resource, is not prioritised. It is as simple as this: no fish means no fishing industry. Successful reform must place the resources and a long-term approach at its very core.

The formula is simple. Take just enough without depleting the stocks, without preventing their capacity to grow back, and without destroying the seabed and the habitats they depend on – and yes, be willing to make short term sacrifices for the long term benefit of everyone involved.

We are a few days away from the opening of the Rio+20 environmental summit. Does the EU really want to be less ambitious than it was 20 years ago?

Twenty years ago, at the Rio summit, we already knew that our oceans were in trouble and what was needed to restore them.

We already knew that we needed to maintain fish stocks above levels which can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) - the maximum about of fish you can take without compromising its ability to rebuild - that instead of destroying fish habitats, we needed to implement the ecosystem-based approach and the precautionary principle in fisheries management.

Ten years ago, in Johannesburg, the very same principles were recalled, this time with an added sense of urgency.

Yet member states are today still challenging the need to change fisheries management in Europe, to follow scientific advice, to restore fish stocks above levels which can produce the MSY, to end wasteful practice, and to protect marine habitats.

The MSY requirement by 2015 is not just another NGO talking point. It has been around for more than 30 years, and is crucial step towards improving the state of our fisheries. It may be complex, but difficulty does not excuse inaction.

Discards is another issue at the forefront of the debate around the EU's fisheries policy. But the current discard ban proposal lacks the necessary elements to truly tackle the waste of 1.3 million tonnes of fish every year - in fact, it applies to less than 5 percent of those species targeted by the European fleet.

In these times of crisis (both economic and environmental), politicians are expected to look towards the future, and take the necessary decisions to solve problems.

Europe's fisheries are vital to our communities, our culture and our health. It is their duty to protect this resource for the generations to come.

The writer is executive director of the Washington-based conservation group, Oceana, in Europe

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