4th Jun 2023

EU states wary of action on fisheries reform

After a long debate on Monday (25 May), EU fisheries ministers agreed that the bloc's fishing policy must change but came no closer to taking tough decisions on cutting fleets.

The ministers discussed a green paper that was published by the European Commission in April in the run up to an overhaul of the EU's much-criticised common fisheries policy in 2012.

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The document highlights the sorry state of the EU's fish stocks - 88 percent currently suffer from over-fishing - and notes that the solution lies in a reduction in the EU's fishing capacity.

But while member states agree this status quo cannot continue, agreement on a reduction in national quotas is likely to be less forthcoming.

Despite the fact that fishing only makes up a small part of national GDPs, governments are conscious that the sector provides important jobs and contains vocal representative groups that are willing to take action.

French fishermen blockaded three ports in the English Channel in April in protest at quotas they deemed to be overly strict.

"When it comes to measures [to cut quotas], as in the 2002 reform, there will be resistance," policy director of marine environmental group Oceana, Julie Cator, told EUobserver.

"At some point the ministers are going to have to bite the bullet and they are going to have to reduce the capacity of the fishing fleet," she says.


Before any crunch decisions are taken, the commission aims to improve the policy as far as possible under existing legislation and to deal with the issue of fish discards.

"It is a practice which must come to an end," EU fisheries commissioner Joe Borg told the ministers on Monday.

Faced with limits on the amount of fish they can bring back to land and keen to keep only the most profitable fish, fishermen frequently tip part of their catch back overboard, despite the negligible chances of these fish recovering.

It is estimated that for every kilogramme of cod landed from the North Sea, another kilogramme is dumped back into the water.

Mr Borg presented the ministers with a number of measures that could be taken to combat this practice before the EU fisheries policy is reformed, such as a ban on discarding low-value fish, licensing vessels according to likely catches and improving the selectivity of fishing gear.

Danish proposal

The Danish minister in charge of the fisheries portfolio, Eva Kjer Hansen, urged her counterparts to consider a new system that would allocate quotas based on the amount of fish caught rather than the amount taken back to port.

The Scandinavian country is currently running a pilot project based on the idea, with early results being positive says Ms Hansen.

"We can see that they are more precise in their fishery now, they are looking more for those species they want to catch," she says.

As part of the project, the participating boats are equipped with onboard cameras to monitor what comes up in the net and in return the fishermen are allocated slightly larger quotas.

A full evaluation of the scheme will be published in the autumn.

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