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19th Jan 2020

New EU policy aims to reduce overfishing by 2015

  • Environmental groups are sceptical the measures will help against overfishing (Photo: photo_gram)

In a frank admission that the current EU fisheries policy is "not working", the responsible commissioner Maria Damanaki on Wednesday (13 July) unveiled a new set of measures aimed at reducing overfishing by 2015.

"Our current system is not working in favour of sustainability, this is absolutely sure," Damanaki said during a press conference, noting that 75 percent of the stocks are being overfished and a third of that is in a "worrying state".

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In addition, two thirds of the EU's fish consumption is being covered by imports from countries outside the EU, over which the bloc has even less of a say in terms of taking care of the species.

"If we don't reform, only eight out of our 136 stocks will be sustainable ten years from now. We have to break this vicious cycle," the Greek politician said, while noting that the blame is equally shared by the EU commission and member states not wanting to reform.

Under the proposal, which still needs approval of member states and the European Parliament, a legal obligation to have fishing of each species not exceed its replacement rate should be put in place by 2015.

Transition phases, compensations and subsidies to cushion the loss in jobs will be part of the package and agreed upon at a later stage.

"The problem [of job losses] is not created by the reform, the problem is already there: Fisheries are not profitable any more. There is simply not enough fish there to catch it," the commissioner said.

The proposal will seek to ban discards, dead or injured fish that are thrown back into the sea after being caught because they are too small to sell or belong to a different species.

"We need to stop discards, which in some areas represent 60 percent of the catches. We will change the system so that all catches are counted against quotas," Damanaki said.

The decision-making process of establishing fishing rules at the highest level will also be changed, so that regions will be given the power to regulate themselves on technical details such as the net width allowed for fishermen in the English Channel.

"The European Commission will intervene only when there is no agreement at regional level," the commissioner explained.

One of the more controversial proposals, which saw "lots of discussions" among the 27 commissioners is the idea of having "tradable concessions" which fishing companies or associations can sell in order to reduce overcapacity of the European fishing fleet.

It would mean that fishermen or fishing companies which have a licence to exploit the stocks of a certain country are allowed to sell these concessions to each other.

Citing examples in the Nordic countries, Damanaki said the system would work "under strict rules" left to each member state to set out. She did admit, however, that one of the concerns expressed by other colleagues in the commission is that it would "be abused by the aggression of markets".

Green MEPs and environmental groups however said that the plan is not bold enough to tackle the systemic problems of EU's fisheries policy.

"The Commission's proposal to set up a market-based system to determine who has the right to fish is nothing short of scandalous," Spanish Green MEP Raul Romeva said in a statement.

Speculation and the concentration of fishing rights in the hands of big companies will be a direct consequence of this policy, in Romeva's view. "Worse, if fishing permits are granted based on historical participation in the fishery, the system will reward those who have been most responsible for over-fishing in the past."

Greenpeace and WWF also criticised the commission for contemplating a market scheme.

"There is no ‘one size fits all' solution for the overcapacity of the EU fleet given the variety of fisheries that exist in Europe. Nor will ‘the market' automatically solve this problem," Tony Long from WWF commented.

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