European Commission unveils sustainable fishing policy

The European Commission has unveiled radical plans to reform the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), in an effort to securing both fish stocks and fishermen’s livelihoods for the future

The reforms, which were proposed in Brussels on July 13, are designed to bring an end to over-fishing and depletion of fish stocks through enforcing regional and local targets for EU Member states, and promoting better governance on the international stage through sustainable fisheries agreements.

Presenting the proposals, Maria Damanaki, commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, explained the urgent need to conserve fish stocks. “Action is needed now to get all our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations,” she said. “Only under this precondition can fishermen continue to fish and earn a decent living out of their activities.”

She added: “If we get this reform right, fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run. And all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish, both wild and farm produced.”

The long-term solutions outlined in the proposals include sustainability across all fish stocks by 2015, ecosystem management plans based on scientific advice, and an end to discarding – a wasteful practice in which vast quantities of unwanted fish are thrown back into the sea.

The proposals also call for clear targets and timeframes to stop over-fishing through individual tradable catch shares, and support for small-scale fisheries.

EU fisheries have long been an environmental concern, affected by several interconnected problems. According to the European Commission, the depletion of fish stocks has been the result of a large, over-efficient fishing fleet that has stripped the livelihood of coastal communities. Over-fishing also tends to favour the short-term interests of political leaders, who are given little incentive to act responsibly due to a top-down legislative approach from Brussels, the commission found. As a consequence, long-term conservation of resources has suffered.

The proposed policy package is the outcome of a public consultation between April 2009 and the end of 2010, which responded to the shortcomings of the current fisheries policy. The new package will be submitted to the European Parliament and Council and is expected to be in force by January 2013.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, celebrity chef and campaigner for sustainable fishing, responded to the reforms on his Hugh’s Fish Fight blog. “I’m very happy to see that the proposal specifically includes measures to end discards,” he said. “It’s not perfect but it’s a brave step in the right direction and we should applaud Commissioner Damanaki for ensuring discards are firmly on the agenda.

Addressing more than 700,000 people who have joined his campaign online, he added: “I really believe this wouldn’t have happened without all your fantastic support.”