The reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy

By Michael Evans - 13 Jul 2011 12:41:1 GMT
The reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy

The EU Common Fisheries policy was set up to conserve fish stocks around the shores of the countries of the European Union. Quotas were set for the amount and type of fish that each of the member states would be allowed to catch, with the intention that existing fish stocks should be maintained and replenished.

After some years of operation it became clear that the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) was not achieving its key objectives, with overfishing continuing and fish numbers declining, some almost to the point of extinction.

As a result the economic situation, parts of the fleet continued to remain fragile in spite of receiving high levels of subsidy. Jobs in the fishing industry were unattractive and since many coastal communities depended on fisheries, their situation was becoming even more precarious.

This led to the publication of a Green Paper in 2009, followed by a wide consultation process. The results of this consultation have now been published.

Sustainability is at the heart of the proposed reform. In other words, fishing must not be at a level that endangers the reproduction of stock. The Commission proposes that by 2015 stocks must be exploited at levels that produce the 'maximum sustainable yield'.

The Commission also proposes that by 2016 the bizarre and unacceptable practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea (discards) shall be eliminated. Under the current system EU boats in the North Sea have to throw away up to half of what they catch in order to stay within their quotas.

As a result it is estimated that up to a million tonnes of fish are currently being caught and then thrown back into the sea, usually after they are already dead.

This is no longer acceptable and the Commission recognises that apart from the negative image that it gives to the industry, it has harmful impacts on sustainable stock exploitation, marine ecosystems and the financial viability of fisheries.

According to best estimates, exploiting sustainable stocks would increase stock sizes by about 70%. At the same time overall catches would increase by around 17%, profit margins could be multiplied by a factor of three and returns on investments would be six times higher. Together this would increase the gross value-added for the catching industry by almost 90%.

Sustainable fishing would also free the catching sector from dependence on public support, making it easier to achieve stable prices under transparent conditions. This would help to reduce fleet overcapacity, which currently is one of the main causes of overfishing.

Obviously fishing industry representatives are concerned about the potential loss of livelihoods, but the Commission affirms its commitment to actively working with coastal communities and agrees that certain regions call for 'specific measures' to support local fleets.

The Commission says that aquaculture is also essential to meet the growing global demand for fish and seafood. This is an important economic activity underpinning sustainable economic growth in rural and coastal communities.

These of course are just proposals. They now have to be considered by the European Parliament and member states before they can become binding legislation and that will not be before the end of 2012.

Philip MacMullen, head of environment at Seafish, the authority on seafood, says that the proposals create a real opportunity for change, but there must be a degree of flexibility. He stresses the importance of aiming for high-level goals, rather than looking for over prescriptive solutions.

All in all the proposals in the report seem to be a move in the right direction, but getting all the member states to agree with them will be another story.

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