EU announces review of fisheries policy

The European Commission has announced a full-scale review of EU fisheries policy, saying current rules were doing little to curb overfishing, quota busting and other illegal fishing practices.

EU fisheries policy was last reformed in 2002 and is due for review by 2012 at the latest. While much had improved since 2002 - much stricter controls on illegal fishing, for example - there were many shortcomings, the European Commission said.

Short-term decision-making coupled with irresponsible behaviour by certain parts of the fishing industry in the European Union had penalised those fishermen acting for the common good, it said.

The result was a vicious circle that undermined both the ecological balance of the oceans and the economic profitability of the fisheries sector, it said in a statement.

Many species - cod and hake, for example - are depleted in certain EU waters due to years of chronic overfishing, exacerbated by poor controls and fines that, until recently, were not set high enough to deter lawbreakers.

"In its current form, the CFP (Common Fisheries Policy) does not encourage responsible behaviour by either fishermen or politicians," EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg said.

"The management tools we use reward narrow-minded, short-term decision-making, which has now undermined the sustainability of our fisheries," he said in the statement.

In May, the Commission signalled all was not well in the fisheries sector when it issued a policy statement changing the basis for calculating its proposed fish catch volumes for 2009 and said 88 percent of EU fish stocks were overexploited.

That huge number compared with 80 percent at the same stage last year and a global average of just 25 percent, it said. The stocks situation was "alarming" and bold action was needed.

Europe's share of fish products from domestic resources had also fallen from 75 per cent in the early 1970s to 40 per cent now as it depended more and more on imports, it said.

Scientists say that unless fishing is curbed, or in some cases stopped altogether, many species in EU waters risk extinction. Cod is a prime example, especially in the North Sea and off the west coast of Scotland.

But the Commission usually shies from proposing outright fishing bans or a "zero catch", fearful of the economic impact it would have on small coastal communities that depend on fishing for their livelihood.

In any case, if the Commission does suggest quota cuts, they usually get diluted down by EU ministers who have to agree the final numbers before the next year's quotas enter into force.

© 2008 irishtimes.com
17 September 2008