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June 11, 2012

EU Fisheries: Little learned in 20 years

BY: Xavier Pastor



Editor’s Note: This commentary by our Executive Director originally appeared in the EUObserver

Tomorrow, the Fisheries Council will gather in Brussels for a crucial vote on the general approach for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The developments of these last few weeks indicate that the Parliament, the Council’s equal partner for the first time on fisheries issues, has already shown much more ambition than many national governments and the direction that Council discussions seem to be heading in is concerning.

The May Council meeting clearly showed that that only a very small minority of Member States are truly willing and ready to transform fisheries management in Europe. The Fisheries Council has consistently disregarded scientific recommendations and the EU continues to spend millions of euros on subsidies to artificially maintain afloat an oversized and unprofitable fleet. Instead of tackling the depletion in Europe’s own waters, the EU is sending its fleet to fish deeper and further out at sea, thereby also assisting in the exhaustion of other countries vital fisheries resources. This is a cycle that simply cannot be sustained and one that goes against both nature and the economy.

There can be no social and economic benefits if the environment, which provides the resource, isn’t prioritized. It’s as simple as this: no fish means no fishing industry. That’s why a successful reform must place the resources and a long term approach at its very core. The formula is simple: take just enough without depleting the stocks, without preventing their capacity to grow back, and without destroying the seabed and the habitats they depend on – and yes, be willing to make short term sacrifices for the long term benefit of everyone involved. We are a few days away from the opening of Rio +20, does the EU really want to be less ambitious than it was 20 years ago?

Twenty years ago, at the Rio summit, we already knew that our oceans were in trouble and what was needed to restore them to their previous state of abundance. We already knew that instead of overfishing we needed to maintain fish stocks above levels which can produce the Maximum Sustainable Yield (the maximum about of fish you can take without compromising its ability to rebuild) that instead of destroying fish habitats, we needed to implement the ecosystem based approach and the precautionary principle in fisheries management.

Ten years ago, in Johannesburg, the very same principles were recalled, this time with an added sense of urgency. Yet, still today, Member States are challenging the need to change fisheries management in Europe, to follow scientific advice, to restore fish stocks above levels which can produce the MSY, to end the wasteful practice of discards, and to protect marine habitats.

The MSY requirement by 2015 is not just another NGO talking point, it has been around for more than 30 years, and is crucial step towards improving the state of our fisheries. It may be complex, but difficulty does not excuse inaction.

Discards is another issue at the forefront of the debate around the CFP. But the current discard ban proposal lacks the necessary elements to truly tackle the waste of 1.3 million tons of fish every year – in fact, it applies to less than 5% of those species targeted by the European fleet.

In these times of crisis (both economic and environmental), politicians are expected to look towards the future, and take the necessary decisions to solve problems. Europe’s fisheries are vital to our communities, our culture and our health and it is their duty to protect this resource for the generations to come.