11th Dec 2023

EU agrees overhaul of fisheries policy

  • Nearly a quarter of caught fish is thrown back as discards (Photo: Commission)

The controversial 'discard' practice of throwing dead fish back into the sea faces an effective ban as part of an overhaul of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Under a deal struck by MEPs and member states in the early hours of Thursday morning (30 May), fishermen would have to prove that they could not avoid making unwanted bycatches to be allowed to discard fish. Even with this exemption, which would require the formal approval of the European Commission, discards will be limited to no more than 5 percent of the total catch.

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The 5 percent limit on discards also represents a victory for the parliament which demanded a lower threshold than the 9 percent figure proposed by governments.

Meanwhile, the rules used to set fishing quotas will be decided on the basis of internationally agreed standards establishing the 'maximum sustainable yield' (MSY) starting from 2015, meaning that fishermen can catch no more than fish stocks can reproduce in a year. All fish stocks with quotas shall be decided by MSY by 2020.

The quota system of total allowable catches for each type of fish was introduced in 1983 in an attempt to preserve fish stocks, but is widely regarded by regulators and industry as a failure. Overfishing has remained a chronic problem, with figures statistics suggesting that 80 percent of Mediterranean fish stocks and 47 percent of Atlantic ones are both overfished and dangerously depleted.

Currently, 23 percent of caught fish are thrown back into the sea because they are of an unwanted species or size.

The new regime will also bring to an end the annual round of ministerial haggling in Brussels over the size of national catch quotas. Instead, decisions on quotas will be made at regional and national level.

Simon Coveney, the Irish Fisheries minister who brokered the deal, commented that the "existing CFP has failed fishing communities", singling out the discard practice as "a fundamentally flawed byproduct" of policy.

The revised CFP would herald "a radical new way of fishing that virtually ends the practice of discard and makes fishing policy on the basis of science to make sure that fish stocks can grow and expand," he said

Ulrike Rodust, the German centre-left MEP leading the parliament's negotiating team, told journalists on Thursday (30 May) that "despite the lack of sleep I am satisfied."

"After decades with a policy that has been a terrible failure, we now have a reform that will repair the damage done", she said, adding that the new regime would lead to "more fish in the water and more jobs in the industry".

The agreement now needs to be ratified by government ministers and the European Parliament. However, both Coveney and the parliament team expressed confidence that the reforms would be rubber-stamped within weeks.

"The council wants agreement…. ministers have gone as far as they can go," said Coveney.

For his part, Gabriel Mato, the Spanish chairman of the parliament's fisheries committee, pointed out that the deal marked the first reform of the CFP agreed jointly by MEPs and ministers under the Lisbon Treaty, which enhances the legislating role of parliament."We have shown courage and generosity to reform the CFP and reach a final agreement," he said.

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