NGOs Welcome Progress in EU Fishery Reform

19 December 2012

The fisheries committee of the European Parliament approved on 18 December a package of measures set to reform the Common Fishery Policy (CFP). Environmental organisations welcomed the move, which they said would steer the CFP towards sustainability, both in terms of fish stocks and the livelihoods of the fishers that depend on them. In particular, the reform package would make sure that fishing quotas are set based on scientific evidence rather than political deals.

"In the face of massive lobbying from destructive fishing interests, Members of the European Parliament have found the courage to stand up for our marine environment and give a future to both fish and fishermen," commented Ariel Brunner, head of EU policy at Birdlife Europe.

Currently, European fisheries are under significant strain. As much as eighty percent of Mediterranean stocks and 47 percent of Atlantic stocks are overfished. EU catches have declined by close to 40 percent over the last 15 years.

The current EU CFP, considered by many to be a failure, has been in place since 2002. The new CFP is set to take effect at the beginning of 2014.

Under the reform measures approved on 18 December, the discard of non-target species or fish of the wrong size will be banned. Twenty-five percent of the current fish catch is discarded at sea.

Funding will also be earmarked to help equip fishers better, for example with nets that minimise by-catch. Another key part of the package relates to attaining maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for all fisheries by 2020. In the long term, this will allow for a larger overall catch and sustainable livelihoods for European fishers.

Under the reform package, the CFP will establish multi-annual fish stock management plans. Currently, nations haggle around quotas on an annual basis. The multi-year plans will lead to greater predictability and facilitate planning. Other reforms include a new emphasis on regional cooperation by all stakeholders around shared fisheries resources, as well as sustainable fishing in third countries. In non-EU waters, European operators will only be allowed to fish surplus stocks. In addition, the EU will continue its work to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

Next steps

The European Parliament is set to vote on the reforms in plenary during the first quarter of 2013. After this, the European Council - consisting of the fisheries ministers from each country - will have their say. The new CFP is expected to take effect at the beginning of 2014.

"The Fisheries Committee has shown through this milestone vote that the European Parliament is listening to scientific advice and wants fish stocks to recover," Roberto Ferrigno, Common Fisheries Policy Project Coordinator of environmental group WWF said. "WWF now calls on the rest of MEPs in the parliament to champion this position in the plenary vote in early 2013 and hold the line ahead of even more challenging negotiations with fisheries ministers at council level next year."

"The vote today marks a turning point after decades of complacency for overfishing," Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said. "The European Parliament has injected some much-needed ambition in the reform of EU fishing rules and challenged European governments to follow suit."

ICTSD reporting; "Fisheries reforms: MEPs back plan to protect stocks," BBC, 19 December 2012; "European Members of Parliament back extensive reform of EU fisheries policy," FISHUPDATE.COM, 18 December 2012.

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