EU Fisheries Talks Marked By Sharp Disagreement

20 December 2002

EU fisheries ministers, scheduled to complete talks on fishing quotas on Thursday, 19 December, struggled in drawn-out meetings to find a compromise deal. While scientists warn that cod and other key species are on the verge of becoming extinct and should be protected, fishermen and nations with significant fishing fleets are fighting to save jobs and safeguard coastal economies and communities. The talks, which address both reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CPF), recovery plans for fish stocks and 2003 fishing quotas, have been described as deadlocked. If the 15 EU fisheries ministers do not reach agreement on Friday, 20 December -- an unscheduled extra day following the 16-19 December Agriculture and Fisheries Council -- the European Commission may impose emergency regulations for several months until the issue would be taken up at the EU Council of Ministers meeting in March. Ministers have also tentatively scheduled discussions for 8 February 2002.The European Commission proposal under discussion does not involve the closure of North Sea fisheries, but rather 80% cuts in quotas for cod, haddock and whiting, and 40% cuts for plaice and sole. The proposal would also involve taking more than 8,000 trawlers out of operation with EU aid while other vessels' days at sea would be limited. In cases such as cod, this could mean just seven days of permitted fishing every month. An estimated 28,000 jobs would be lost under the plan. The Commission proposal also focuses on tightened controls to tackle problems such as falsified reporting and operation in prohibited areas. Spain, France and other countries with large fleets are strongly opposed to the planned cutbacks. British and French fishermen have held demonstrations and blockaded ports in protest.

Collapse of the Canadian Cod Fishery

The European Commission proposal is based on advice from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, that recommended a full fishing ban in order to preserve fish stocks for the future. Cods are now at their lowest ever levels due to years of over-fishing in the European fishing grounds. The collapse of the Canadian cod fishery outside Newfoundland provides a warning of what may happen if drastic action is not taken. Ten years ago, cod reached commercial extinction, and despite a ten-year moratorium on fishing, the cod has not returned. The fishing communities in the area have been devastated.

"EU agonises on fish quotas to save cod and jobs," REUTERS, 19 December 2002; "Extra day to rescue EU cod talks," BBC ONLINE, 20 December 2002; "EU ministers embark on all-night fish quota debate," REUTERS, 20 December 2002.  

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