European fisheries reform must scrap overfishing

Posted by Ariana Densham — 17 March 2011 at 6:14pm - Comments

For many people, the three words ‘Common Fisheries Policy’ previously went hand in hand with another four words: ‘What does that mean?’ Either that or, a hefty yawn and a glazed look.

But, this is changing. No longer the exclusive domain of policy wonks and fishy geeks, the recent media attention given to overfishing and the horrendous practice of discards, most notably by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall’s Fish Fight season of TV programmes, has catapulted this rather obscure yet hugely important issue into the heart of the public debate. For that Hugh, I salute you. 

Put simply the problem is this: there are too many fish being harvested out of the sea. This is because over the years the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (aka CFP) have been modified and reworked to the point that they no longer guard against un-sustainability, and nor do they support the livelihoods of many fishermen. The irony is that these are the very things it was designed to do.

The CFP is a set of European laws, which together determine how Europe manages its marine resources. It determines who can fish, where, for how long, and for what species. For about 30 years, it has governed EU waters - one of the most complex fisheries in the world - but it is now broken. Badly. Seventy-two per cent of European fish stocks that we have data for are now at unsustainable levels - compared to an average of 32 per cent in the rest of the world.

Also, we discard shocking volumes of fish. In some European fisheries we throw back 50-70 per cent of the catch back into the sea dead every year because the CFP rules say they can’t be landed. This makes a mockery of Europe’s (and the UK’s) reputation as an environmental leader. We need a new approach based on common sense.

And so Greenpeace, together with other NGOs, have jointly sent a letter to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon, that urges the UK government to recognise that the overarching problem of the CFP is overfishing, not just discards and to push for the changes outlined below in the reform.

We are hauling fish out of the sea at totally unsustainable levels and without a dramatic change in the status quo, eventually we will no longer see traditional fish species in our local chippys, on supermarket shelves or restaurant menus - and many people will lose their jobs. The current CFP has failed to ensure healthy fish stocks.

The good news is that we still have time to change things. Official reform of the CFP must take place every 10 years and the latest round will be completed in 2012 - which means the policy makers in Brussels are busy rewriting the CFP at this very moment.

We need the UK government to act now and take a strong position on meaningful reform of the CFP and prove that it really is the environmental champion that other countries look to for an example on ‘how things should be done.’

So what do we need to see in the reform? 

1. Put the environment first

This recognises that we must have healthy seas before we are able to have healthy fisheries or a sustainable fishing industry. Without healthy seas, people working in the fishing industry cannot be prosperous and the sector cannot be economically sustainable.

It also means we must use marine reserves as a way to allow fish species to recover. These act like an insurance policy for healthy fish stocks, because they create what are essentially national parks at sea.

2. Get the fishing level right

Ministers must be legally obliged to follow scientific advice about fish stock levels, which the annual political dog fight for fishing quotas in Brussels has historically ignored. There must also be an agreement at the European level about absolute limits on quotas, because currently each country considers that the problem is just someone else’s concern.

3. Reward the good stuff, and stop the bad stuff

In the transition to a reformed CFP, where all fishermen should be required to use more environmentally friendly fishing methods, we should reward those who go above what is required with larger quotas as a way to achieve the environmental goals contained in the reform.

This kind of incentive would financially reward those fishing with more selective fishing methods. Such increased selectivity would also reduce the amount of discards or could avoid them altogether.

4. Better enforcement and more regionalisation

We must see all European countries being better at taking responsibility for monitoring what is happening on fishing boats, and enforcing the CFP rules by making sure they catch only what they are supposed to. This also involves giving the fishing sector a say in how their local fishing grounds are managed, thereby creating a local sense of responsibility that fish stocks are kept at sustainable levels.

The UK government can and must take the lead by pushing for these reforms in Brussels. It is a no-brainer that our seas must be healthy, plentiful and full of fish, in order for us to continue eating fish in the long term and for people who work in the industry to have jobs in the future.

There are already good examples of better management – such as the Scottish catch quota system – we must make good practice such as this the rule rather than the exception.

Ultimately we need a CFP that does what it says on the tin, rather than the current system of mismanagement, if we are to have a healthy supply of fish in the future.

Download our letter to Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon here >>

About Ariana

I’m Ariana and I’m an campaigner in the Oceans team at Greenpeace UK.  

interested? Follow me on twitter @arianadensham


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