Making waves on the long road to fishing reform

Posted by simon clydesdale — 30 May 2013 at 4:07pm - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Reynaers/Greenpeace
A petition of over 100,000 paper and digital paper boats is delivered to the EU Irish Presidency ahead of crucial CFP meetings

Listen. Can you hear it? No? Come closer. There. The fat CFP lady is beginning to sing.

Last night, more accurately at 3.30 am this morning, a new deal to fix Europe’s broken fishing laws was finally agreed. After 2 years of blood, toil, tears and sweat. And sleeplessness.

The current fishing system has been universally recognised as crying out for radical reform. Fish stocks across Europe are massively depleted, destructive and hugely wasteful fishing operates across the board, the small-scale low-impact fishing fleet is marginalised threatening a sustainable and ancient way of coastal life, and EU boats rampantly plunder fish stocks outside their own waters.

Now, at last, we have a framework for change, and at first glance it looks remarkably like much-needed progress.

The UK small-scale fleet makes up three quarters of the fishing vessels in our waters, and provides two thirds of jobs in the English fleet but gets a farcically tiny slice of the quota cake, just 4%. No, I haven’t missed out a number, I really do mean 4%. Over 95 per cent of the UK’s fishing quota is held by powerful fishing organisations, which represent larger, more destructive vessels and are often dominated by foreign interests that contribute little or nothing to the UK economy.

But the new deal hammered out today should change that. It gives our Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon a very clear mandate to turn around UK fishing by rewarding those fishermen who operate sustainably and feed back into the local economy. This agreement means Benyon must at last give the low-impact sector a fair catch.

The news of the deal was filtering through this morning just as our ship the Arctic Sunrise glided into gorgeous Fowey in Cornwall. It’s on the last leg of its nine nation, three month odyssey to galvanise support for sustainable low-impact fishing across Europe. 110,000 people have made paper boats and signed up to support a fairer deal for these fishermen who understand the value of stewarding their waters for future generations. That wave of support was delivered to Brussels this week and it seems they don’t have cloth ears after all.

But this is Brussels after all, so nothing is ever simples. No meerkats here. The deal represents progress but is still a mixed bag.

The amount of fish that can be discarded at sea will be significantly reduced, although with exceptions. The agreement aims to end overfishing by 2015 for most stocks, but allows an additional five years in exceptional cases. The deal also includes a commitment to rebuild fish stocks, but fails to include a deadline to achieve sustainable stock levels. In addition, EU vessels will not be allowed to overfish the waters of nations outside the EU.

The fine technical details remain to be thrashed out. But this political agreement between ministers and the European parliament now means our fisheries minister Richard Benyon must bring about change in UK waters, giving our small-scale sustainable fleet a fair deal. This fishing fleet has been on the brink for a long time, struggling to survive. Brussels has provided them with a lifeline, Richard Benyon must now throw it their way. We’ll be there to encourage him, of course.

The Arctic Sunrise has carried a fishing lantern right around the coast of Europe, passed from fisherman to fisherman as they accompanied the ship from one country to another. The lantern was passed from French fisherman William Thomas to British fisherman Steve Rodgers in Lyme Regis yesterday. It burns brighter than ever today.

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