EU fisheries paper catches the drift
Stocks "have been overfished for decades", and the fleet remains "too large for the available resources". Overall poor performance - ecologically and economically - is "due to chronic overcapacity, of which overfishing is both a cause and a consequence".
Narrow, short-term political concerns have led EU member governments to "request countless derogations, exceptions and specific measures" - a fragmented picture that makes sustainable management impossible.
The commission's headline statistics are scary: 30% of EU fish stocks are outside safe biological limits (ie at risk of collapse), and 88% are fished beyond their maximum sustainable yield (ie heading towards eventual collapse, and yielding less profit than they would if they were more robust).
For North Sea cod - the touchstone stock for UK consumers - 93% of fish are caught before they can reproduce. Yes, you read that correctly - 93%.
In fact, just about every facet of the green paper could have been written by one of the environmental organisations that have been publicising the parlous state of EU fisheries for more than a decade.
Except for one, and that's the most important facet of all - the solution.
I must try here to avoid lumping all environmental NGOs into one basket - they're as different as fishermen themselves - but it's not uncommon, shall we say, to read prescriptions that are entirely top-down - mandating quotas, mandating limits on days at sea, mandating types of gear.
All those things have their place. But among the commission's favoured solutions is something that has traditionally been anathema to many regulators and environmental groups alike - working with the industry.
To first borrow and then distort a famous phrase of the development movement: if you encourage a man to fish to abandonment, he will deplete the oceans in a day; but if you encourage him to fish for a sustainable profit, he will manage his stocks for a lifetime.
The logic is that if fishermen have an incentive to preserve stocks for a later day, they will. Some countries (including, among EU states, Denmark) have established transferable quota schemes, where fishermen are given the right to fish a portion of the stock for many years - perhaps for ever.
There are many variants of the basic idea, and it isn't a complete solution - but broadly speaking, the evidence from Iceland and New Zealand and the US and Australia is that it can be part of a solution.
There are other examples of initiatives that fishermen have taken to curb damage.
Voluntarily, skippers stay out of the Trevose Box, an area of sea off the Cornwall coast, in the spawning season.
In Scottish waters, the Real-time Closure Scheme, developed by the Scottish government and the fishing industry, is a flexible system whereby boats avoid - often at very short notice - areas where other skippers have reported high concentrations of young cod.
Broadly, the commission likes this kind of idea, encouraging what it calls Producer Organisations to develop ways of assessing stocks and regulating catches.
It won't work for every type of fisherman or for every type of vessel.
Within European waters you have everything from tiny in-shore boats worked by people who want their sons and daughters to follow them into the same local trade through to giant marine vacuum cleaners that can deplete one sector of ocean in a moment before moving on to the next, just like a Hollywood-derived alien race will flit from planet to planet, making each one's inhabitants a casual course in its never-ending cosmic luncheon.
One group has an interest in preserving the stock - the other's only reward comes through sucking up as much as possible - and there is every permutation in between.
The green paper recognises the discrepancy; and although it doesn't say so in as many words, the outcome it wants would be to promote the small sustainable operations at the expense of the marauding big boys.
Altogether, asking fishermen to regulate themselves is an interesting concept. It's not straightforward; and governments, or some kind of agency that transcends narrow national political interests, will still have much to do, gathering and paying for scientific advice, setting overall rules and catch limits, inspecting and punishing transgressors.
But increased self-regulation is attractive, if only because, as the commission says, measures introduced in the last CFP reform in 2002 have failed in their overall goal of making European fisheries sustainable; so surely it's time for something else.
One other thing implicit in the green paper is the need to get away from simplistic, bombastic and nationalistic "solutions".
Exhibit A: "discards are wasteful, so let fishermen keep what they catch".
Of course discards are a huge waste - according to a recent WWF survey, almost 40% of the fish caught worldwide is thrown overboard - but the policy came in for a reason, namely that without discards, fishermen have just occasionally been known to venture out looking for something relatively worthless - take the humble sandeel as a hypothetical example - and entirely by chance come back with a lockerful of cod, exclaiming innocently "you mean it's 10 times more profitable than sandeels? Well blow me down, who'd a thought it?"
So fine; sort out discards - everyone wants it - but only if you can agree another way of regulating the catch of high-value items.
Exhibit B: it's all the fault of those darned foreigners.
Well, some of it is - the commission acknowledges as much, without naming names.
But in the real seas of real cheek-by-jowl Europe - where fish (believe it or not) actually swim from one country's waters to the next, where entire stocks may take themselves to a different locality as the waters slowly warm, and where owners of industrial-scale boats can transplant themselves from one country to the next in an instant - slicing and dicing the sea into discrete national areas may give the national flag a new rosy glow, but is surely as irrelevant to the real problem as a chocolate saucepan is to cooking ravioli.
To quote an over-used but still resonant phrase from the 1980s; the oceans are Our Common Future.
Those of us who do not often go down to the sea in boats need governments to regulate fishing well - not only for the sake of some abstruse ecology, but in order to keep seafood coming to our plates and to give fishing communities an extended living.
Nothing simple will solve it; any mix of measures that does solve it will almost certainly be too sophisticated to compress into soundbite form.
With its green paper, the commission has raised the spectre of a future where European seas have no fish - and, therefore, no fishermen.
It is now up to all players - governments, fishermen, academics, consumers, campaigners - to shed any layers of narrow self-interest they may carry, and throw their best ideas into the net.