The great fish robbers have got away again

The EU plans to overhaul its fishing policy to stop complete depletion of our overfished seas. But the weight of industrial lobbies and the short-sightedness of some member states will make this a hard task.

Published on 14 July 2011 at 14:57

If we were relying on the fish caught in British waters, we would run out by this coming weekend.

The North Atlantic was once one of the planet’s most productive seas. Now, despite having one of the largest fishing fleets in the world, Europe is forced to import two thirds of the fish it consumes.

Instead of record production, we have record overfishing, affecting three quarters of Europe’s fish populations.

In a world that is ever more hungry for protein, and especially for the healthy flesh of fish, that is crime enough. But we also pay through the nose for the privilege of this mismanagement. If it were not for subsidies from taxpayers, large parts of Europe’s fishing industry would collapse. We pay out a billion euros a year to keep it afloat, half of which goes to Spain.

It could all be very different. In a perfect world Europe would profit from its fish, earning money from taxing big catches made by a healthy industry. European waters would look like those around America, New Zealand and Australia, where quotas based on reliable science have caused stocks and profits to soar. Read full article in Times – paywall – or in Presseurop’s nine other languages…

From Spain

Contested measures

“EU proposes ‘Big Brother’ to control overfishing,” headlines the daily El Mundo, which reports on the “radical reform” of the EU’s common fisheries policy, presented in Brussels on 13 July by the European Commissioner for Fisheries, Maria Damanaki.

The reform, which is set to come into force in 2013, aims to “preserve maritime resources, with a reduction in the number of fishing boats, and promote the development of sustainable fish farming,” writes the newspaper. A ban on the practice of discarding unwanted healthy fish, which account for 23% of catches, is one of the main measures in the package. To this end, the Commission will ask national governments to oblige fishermen “to install surveillance cameras on their boats.” El Mundo reports that this is the “only proposal to be welcomed by environmentalists,” who agree in principle with the reform, but criticise the manner in which it is to be conducted.”

Among the most contested measures is a plan to introduce a system of tradable fishing concessions that would enable individual fishermen to sell their quotas if they leave the business. The system, which will only apply to fishing boats of more than 12 metres in length, is supposed to reduce the number of boats on the water. However, El Mundo remarks that it will “pose economic difficulties” because it threatens to “privilege larger operators” and undermine the interests of self-employed fishermen. Given the economic importance of its fishing industry, “Spain will be one of the countries most affected by the reform”, concludes the daily.

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