MEPs back end to fish discard 'madness'
By Benjamin Fox
MEPs have voted in more eco-friendly rules on fish discards as part of a package to reform the EU's much-maligned common fisheries policy (CFP).
The Strasbourg Parliament voted on Wednesday (6 February) by 502 to 137 in favour of the new regime which will take effect in 2014.
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The quota system of total allowable catches for each type of fish was introduced in 1983 in an attempt to preserve fish stocks.
However, overfishing has remained a chronic problem, with figures presented by the European Commission suggesting that 80 percent of Mediterranean fish stocks and 47 percent of Atlantic ones are overfished and becoming dangerously depleted.
Currently, 23 percent of caught fish are thrown back into the sea because they exceed quotas.
But German centre-left MEP, Ulrike Rodust, who piloted the legislation through Parliament, insisted that the national quota system should be replaced by an eco-friendly system based on "maximum sustainable yield" based on the replenishment of stocks. The provisions will enter into force from 2015,
Speaking in Strasbourg, Rodust commented that MEPs had "used our power as a co-legislator, for the first time in fisheries policy, to put a stop to overfishing."
"Fish stocks should recover by 2020, enabling us to take 15 million tonnes more fish, and create 37,000 new jobs,"she added.
Meanwhile, deputies backed the creation of a European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), with a budget of €6.7 billion, to support the industry and, in particular, small-scale coastal fleets. Member states will be able to restrict fishing in a zone within 12 nautical miles of the coast, up to the year 2022.
MEPs rejected the EU executive's plan for a scheme of catch shares called "concessions" for trawlers who would then be able to trade their shares with other fleets.
The vote marks the first time that the parliament has used its powers as a co-legislator on the common fisheries policy under the Lisbon treaty.
Speaking on behalf of the Irish presidency, fisheries minister Simon Coveney said that the discards policy is "indefensible" and added that lawmakers should focus on "a sustainable management of fish stocks that can protect fish in the sea but also can protect rural, coastal and fishing communities that rely for their living and their income on a fishing industry. "
Coveney told MEPs that negotiations between governments and the parliament would start within the coming weeks, with a view to securing a deal by the end of the Irish presidency in June.
Over 3,000 amendments were tabled to the commission proposal by MEPs before a compromise was reached between the centre-left Socialist group, the liberals and the Greens.
The EPP group split, with its MEPs from France, Spain, Italy and Portugal leading opposition to the package.
For her part, fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki, welcomed what she described as "an ambitious reform of the CFP by endorsing the approach put forward by the commission."
She added that the reforms would "put an end to wasteful practices that we can no longer afford."
The vote prompted a mixed reaction from fisheries and environmental lobby groups.
Greenpeace's spokesperson on EU fisheries policy, Saskia Richartz, called it "a momentous shift away from overfishing."
Alex Wilks, director of the online campaigning group Avaaz, described the vote as "a huge victory for the citizens of Europe who urged MEPs to stand up to the fishing lobbies and call a halt to the overfishing madness."
But Guy Vernaeve, secretary general of fishing associations group Europêche, described the proposals as "unrealistic."