Wednesday

19th Jun 2019

Opinion

Crunch time to end overfishing in the EU

  • Some 40 percent of fish populations in the north Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic are still being overfished. In the Mediterranean and Black Sea that figure is closer to 90 percent (Photo: World Bank)

Just because the most demanding issues that we face – be that curbing climate change, achieving literacy for all, or ending poverty – have long-term goals, that doesn't lessen their urgency.

Policy deadlines are intended to spur action, not delay it. By signalling the direction of travel, these deadlines are a critical element to managing a 'just transition' towards a sustainable society.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

But that signal goes unnoticed if the policy deadline is not really believed. And what happens when a difficult deadline hits?

This is precisely what is being played out in EU fisheries as we approach the landmark legal commitment under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to end overfishing by 2020.

Transport back in time to 2009. Looking ahead to the reform of the CFP, the European Commission reflected on the state of EU fisheries in its green paper.

The assessment was bleak: "European fish stocks have been overfished for decades and the fishing fleets remain too large for the available resources."

Seizing this urgent opportunity for change, a broad coalition formed to push for ambitious policy.

They argued that while overfished stocks would take time to return to historical levels, we could stop overfishing immediately by setting appropriate catch limits and fishing less.

The economic case was clear. Because fish stocks have been depleted through decades of overfishing, taking a conservationist approach would increase the size of fish stocks and – perhaps counterintuitively – mean greater catches within a decade.

While NGOs were pushing for a deadline to end overfishing by 2015, the large fishing industry groups wanted a later date.

In the end the 2013 reform of the CFP had a requirement to end overfishing for all commercial fish stocks "by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020".

Pyrrhic victories

We are now approaching the end of 2018, but 'possible' apparently wasn't possible.

According to the most recent assessment, 40 percent of fish populations in North Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic are still being overfished.

In the Mediterranean and Black Sea that figure is closer to 90 percent.

This is not to deny the CFP deadline was going to be hard work, but that was the entire point: transitions, particularly fairly managed ones, often are.

If policy isn't challenging, it means it's just 'business as usual', which is some instances – like overfishing a common resource to the detriment of future generations and the ecosystem – is unacceptable.

Clearly, what makes the politics of this difficult is that it's fishers themselves who bear the brunt of the challenge.

Fishing is one of the most challenging occupations – mentally, physically, financially – and remains the most dangerous.

The medium to long-term benefits of ending overfishing massively exceed the costs, but the short-term loss of income forces the fishing lobby to fight necessary change.

The current record profits in the fishing industry, while distributed unevenly, is a buffer to making reductions in fishing.

Unfortunately as we approach the 2020 deadline, member states are calling for a new process of assessment of the costs of complying with it at this short notice.

This may not produce cheery numbers; as anyone who has tried to get an emergency locksmith knows, the less time you have to do something, the more it costs.

This is why early action is preferable (as researchers have found), and it shows us that even if the economic analysis is done correctly (ie a consideration of both the costs and the benefits over an extended time period) the decision of when to do it is political.

Breaking cycle of delay, protest, postpone

Putting off action for so long that it becomes ever more 'costly' to comply creates moral hazard – where excessive risks are taken in the knowledge that the costs will be borne on someone else.

If the landmark 2020 deadline isn't met, why would any other policy in the Common Fisheries Policy be trusted?

Or what about other EU policies? You can be sure that other industries with something at stake in EU policy-making are watching fisheries with interest.

There is no hope for ambitious policy-making if there is no trust in the policy signals being sent.

There is a dangerous cycle of delay, protest, and postpone that not only fails policy objectives but undermines trust in political institutions.

As fish stocks in the deep sea have their fishing limits set on a two-year basis, this coming November is crunch time to see if the 2020 deadline and EU policy really means something.

Griffin Carpenter is a senior researcher at the New Economics Foundation

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

EU can't fish off Western Sahara coast, rules top court

The Western Sahara, annexed by Morocco, is off limits to a new fisheries deal between the EU and Morocco, following a verdict by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. The current agreement runs out in July.

EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy

Not extending the EU fisheries deal with Morocco to fish off the disputed coast of Western Sahara could deprive the Sahrawi people of much-needed income - and throw into question future EU foreign policy in the name of human rights.

Catalonia MEPs are a judicial, not political, issue

Carles Puigdemont and Toni Comin currently live outside Spain. They were prosecuted for the serious crimes, and they have fled justice. It is not possible to judge in absentia in Spain, where the justice system protects the rights of defendants.

News in Brief

  1. New socialist group leader to push for Timmermans
  2. Romanian ex-PM frontrunner to head new liberal group
  3. France, Germany and Spain in fighter jet deal
  4. Tusk grilled in Poland over role as PM
  5. Italy is 'most credible' US partner in EU, says Salvini
  6. EU blames Sudan junta for killings and rapes
  7. Report: EU may suspend Turkey customs union talks
  8. Swiss stock exchange could lose EU access in July

Six takeaways on digital disinformation at EU elections

For example, Germany's primetime TV news reported that 47 percent of political social media discussions were related to the extreme-right AfD party, when in fact this was the case only for Twitter - used by only four percent of Germans.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021
  3. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  5. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  6. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  7. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  8. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  9. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody

Latest News

  1. EU urges Swiss to move on talks or face sanction
  2. Frontex transparency dispute goes to EU court
  3. Commission goes easy on scant national climate plans
  4. Macron and Mogherini decline to back US accusation on Iran
  5. EU summit must give effective answer on migration
  6. Spain's Garcia set to be next Socialist leader in parliament
  7. Erdogan mocks Macron amid EU sanctions threat
  8. The most dangerous pesticide you've never heard of

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  2. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  4. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  5. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  10. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  11. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  12. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us