20th Feb 2020

Commission recommendations on fish quotas largely ignored by ministers

  • Many European fisheries are in danger of collapse (Photo: EUobserver)

Fishermen in the North Sea will be able to catch a lot more cod next year, while cod fishers elsewhere will have to do with less, after EU fisheries ministers agreed on Friday to fish quotas for 2009 - quotas that oceans campaigners say are as unsustainable as ever.

The North Sea cod quota will see a rise of 30 percent on 2008, although fishermen must now use new types of nets that cut down on the amount of discards - those fish that are thrown back into the sea, dead or alive, as the fish are not the right size, the wrong species or because quotas have already been breached.

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"We found the always very difficult balance, in a good atmosphere, between responsibly and sustainably managing fragile resources and fishermen's interests," said French agriculture minister Michel Barnier, who, under the French EU presidency, chaired the meeting.

Every year at this time, ministers meet to agree how much fishermen can catch in the upcoming year.

Elsewhere in the Atlantic, cod quotas are to be cut by 25 percent, as recommended by the European Commission.

Swedish Green MEP Carl Schlyter said he would attempt to convince the European Parliament to file a challenge to the decision over North Sea cod-fishing.

Mr Schlyter said that in 2002, the EU had made a major reform of its common fisheries policy in order to move away from the annual ministerial squabble over fishing quotas.

Long-term plans were to be established for the recovery of depleted stocks. The first plan under the new policy was a strategy for North Sea cod, agreed in 2003. According to the plan, quotas for cod in crisis were to be reduced by 15 per cent per year.

"Now the ministers have agreed on a new plan, whereby fishing on cod stocks in crisis should be reduced by 20 per cent per year," he explained, "[But] the Council has intentionally decided that the old rules no longer apply, while the new rules will not enter in to force for another year.

They have done this to "create a window, which they then exploit to increase quotas by a full 30 per cent."

"[It is] a flagrant breach of the fundamental principles of the EU fisheries policy," he said.


Discards was one of the key issues ministers discussed. Environmental groups say that between 40 and 60 percent of all fish caught are discarded in this way.

In one example, in the North Sea in 2007, fishermen caught 24,000 tonnes of cod and threw overboard another 23,000 tonnes.

The campaigners say that the announced quotas do not accurately reflect what is caught because more fish ends up in nets and then is thrown back than arrives ashore.

Marine environmental group Ocean welcomed those measures introduced to reduced discards, but still warned that they are not sufficient to tackle problem.

"This is a compromise agreement that attempts to satisfy everyone but helps no one in the long term" said Xavier Pastor, the director of Oceana's Europe office.

Ministers also agreed to a 50 percent reduction for the spiny dogfish in 2009 and a total allowable catch (TAC) of zero for 2010. Scientists had recommended a zero TAC from 2009 as the northeast Atlantic population is on the verge of collapse.

The Porbeagle will see a 25 percent reduction in 2009. Here too, EU scientists had recommended no targetted fishing of this species.

Catches for cod, hake, monkfish, sole and whiting have also been agreed above the recommendations of EU advisors.

The Gulf of Biscay anchovy fishery however is to remain closed, although ministers rejected European Commission recommendations for catch reductions in the Gulf of Cadiz anchovy fishery.

Ricardo Aguilar, a researcher with Oceana, said: "Many of the science-based proposals made by the European Commission have been ignored by the Council. Short-term economic interests have once again won out and stocks will continue to be fished to depletion."

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