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28th Nov 2021

EU fishing policy not working, says commission

  • Almost 90 percent of EU fish stocks are overfished, the commission says (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Commission has conceded that its current fishing policy is not working and instead has resulted in alarming levels of overfishing.

In response, it says swingeing cuts are needed to Europe's fishing fleet via the next reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, scheduled for 2012.

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In a position paper adopted on Wednesday (22 April), the commission reports that 88 percent of the bloc's fish stocks are overfished, with 30 percent of stocks "outside safe biological limits"

"Most of our problems stem from overcapacity," said fisheries commissioner Joe Borg.

The commission would not offer a cross-the-board percentage cut to the fleet, saying that different cuts are required, depending on the type of fish that is being caught.

However, the size of the fleet is assessed to be two to three times the size needed.

"It is a decisive moment for EU fisheries," he said. "We have time, but we have to get things right."

Mr Borg said that while the existing policy has met with moderate success in some areas, overall, this has been "largely neutralised by the development of new technologies that increase the harvest capacity of modern boats."

Bluefin Tuna, cod and hake stocks are particularly threatened, he said.

The commissioner wants a radical break with the existing system, with sharp cuts to the fleet.

"I want the next CFP reform to break this cycle once and for all," he said. "Too many boats are chasing too few fish."

Beyond fleet reductions, the paper suggests a liberalisation of the quota system where instead of competition amongst EU member states in the distribution of fishing quotas, which are then passed on to domestic fleets, quotas are offered to fishermen individually and can then be transferred or sold.

Because these would only be handed out once, the commission believes that this would force fishermen to engage in more sustainable practices.

Others however believe that such a liberalisation would only permit larger, corporate operators to vacuum up the quotas at the expense of small-scale fishermen.

Green groups welcomed the position paper, happy that the commission has recognised the current system is broken.

"Scientific evidence shows an ongoing dramatic erosion of marine biological diversity that appears to be accelerating on a global scale, with predicted collapse of all fished species by the year 2048 under business as usual," said Oceana, a seas campaign group.

"Today we are left to deal with stocks fished down to depletion," said the group's European director, Xavier Pastor, "recovery plans unable to serve their aim, unmanaged overcapacity, poor environmental compliance, low profitability of the EU fisheries industry, governance structure failing in their accountability to common interests, perverse subsidies and incentives, insufficient monitoring and control, unsustainable loss of biodiversity."

"The EU has a challenge ahead to find the solution, but this may be the final chance to reverse on the current practice of fishing down marine ecosystems," he added.

Greenpeace EU oceans policy director Saskia Richartz said: "This is the last chance we have to reform a rotten policy and save our seas. Ministers and the commission are responsible for making European fisheries one of the most unsustainable and least profitable fisheries in the world."

Nevertheless, the paper is being released at a time of increased strife at sea over the existing quotas.

French fishermen last week blockaded three English Channel ports in protest that the quotas are too strict. They only lifted them when promised an extra €4 million in subsidies.

Sector stakeholders are encouraged to contribute their opinions on the paper. At the end of this year, the commission will then take these contributions into consideration in a drafting of measures and the launch of a formal legislative process, replacing the current CFP after 2012.

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