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24th Jan 2020

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EU fish wars ahoy

  • Chairman Chris Davies (Renew, UK): 'Atlantic waters look good, but the Mediterranean and Black seas are in a terrible state' (Photo: European Parliament)

EU seas will contain "more" and "bigger" fish five years from now if the European Parliament's fisheries committee (PECH) is to be proud of its legacy, according to its chairman, British liberal MEP Chris Davies. But a fight on post-Brexit fishing could divert attention from its core work, the committee's Dutch deputy chair, Peter van Dalen, warned.

"It's all about achieving sustainability - ending overfishing and rebuilding our fish stocks so that we have more fish in the sea and can give a long term secure future for our fishing industry," Davies (Renew, UK) said. EU authorities ought to "tighten controls" on fishing quotas and "stop the discarding of millions of tonnes of fish each year," he added.

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The EU is meant to end overfishing by 2020, and 59 out of 81 assessed species were now returning to sustainable levels, according to "strict scientific advice", Davies noted. But "we're bound to miss the target, I fear," the MEP added. "Atlantic waters look good, but the Mediterranean and Black seas are in a terrible state," he said.

The European Commission and EU member states negotiate total allowable catches of fish each year in a process that dominates EU intervention in the €6bn-a-year European seafood sector, which employs tens of thousands of people, most of them in France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and the UK.

The tension between industry and environment could see clashes inside PECH on how to spend the €6bn European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, Davies warned.

There were "too many people in politics" in some EU states who wanted to "throw public money at the fishing industry ... subsidising new and more powerful vessels", as in the "bad old days", he noted. But that "helps to kill the industry and the coastal communities that depend upon it", Davies said.

The committee's Dutch deputy chair, van Dalen (EPP, Netherlands), agreed with the British MEP on the need for better "control" of the sector, saying that old EU rules were "too out of date". But Davies is to lose his PECH job when the UK leaves the EU, and van Dalen warned that Brexit could frustrate the committee's normal work.

Talk of EU fishing controls triggers strong emotions in British eurosceptics and the tabloid media, which cover the subject as if it was World War Two. The so-called 'Scallop Wars' in 2018 even saw violence when British and French fishermen rammed each other's boats and fired flares, and "future reciprocity, after Brexit, of fishing in EU and British waters", is set to be Pech's most divisive issue, van Dalen said.

Peti's European Parliament group coordinators are: Francisco Millan Mon (EPP, Spain), Clara Aguilera (S&D, Spain); Pierre Karleskind (Renew, France); Grace O'Sullivan (Greens/EFA, Ireland); France Jamet (ID, France); Ruza Tomasic (ECR, Croatia); and Joao Ferreira (GUE/NGL, Portugal).

This article first appeared in EUobserver's latest magazine, Who's Who in European Parliament Committees, which you can now read in full online.

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EU failed to end overfishing by 2020: lost opportunity?

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