Call to freeze fishing in Europe to replenish stocks

Crew members of the fishing trawler Diego David sort the catch of sardines and anchovies off the coast of Vigo (file image from December 2005) The European Union has been agonising over fishing policy for years

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A think tank has made a controversial case for freezing fishing in Europe, saying most fish stocks would return to sustainable levels within five years.

The London-based New Economics Foundation (Nef) argues in its report that the suspension would generate billions of pounds in profits by 2023.

Private investment would compensate fishermen and maintain boats.

A senior UK fishing industry representative said stocks were already improving and the idea made no sense.

Unsustainable fishing remains a major issue for the EU, where 75% of stocks are still overfished and catches are only a fraction of what they were 15-20 years ago.

The European Parliament approved measures this week against third countries which allowed the practice.

However, Maritime and Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki recently reported progress in the fight to reduce overfishing.

No catch?

In its report, No Catch Investment, Nef said it had calculated the costs of restoring fish stocks and found they were far outweighed by the economic benefits in the short and long term.

Estimated restocking times

Fish and chips
  • Mackerel: matter of months
  • Icelandic cod: under five years
  • Skagerrak cod: nine years

source: Nef

It looked at 51 out of 150 commercial fish stocks, including hake, mackerel, whiting and Icelandic cod.

Most, it said, could be restored to sustainable levels within five years, with some varieties such as certain mackerel and herring needing less than a year.

However, some stocks of cod and halibut would take at least nine years to replenish, the Nef report found.

The think tank calculated that private investment of £9.16bn (11.4bn euros; $14.7bn) to manage the fishing freeze would generate profit of £4.43bn by 2023. "By 2052, the returns are £14 for every £1 invested," it said.

The investment would ensure "zero unemployment" among fishermen and would guard against depreciation of their vessels, the Nef argued.

'No sense'

In a recent report, Commissioner Damanaki found that overfishing in the North-East Atlantic, the North Sea and the Baltic Sea had been reduced from 72% in 2010 to 47% in 2012.

Start Quote

Claims that we are progressing towards sustainable fishing are the equivalent of saying that instead of driving a car over a cliff at 100mph we are driving it at 90mph”

End Quote Aniol Esteban Co-author of Nef report

The number of stocks being fished sustainably had risen from 13 to 19, she said.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Friday, Barry Deas, chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations (NFFO), argued there was no need for the freeze proposed by the Nef.

"I don't think it makes sense at any level: biological, economic or political," he said.

"On the whole, we are already moving towards maximum sustainable yields so why would it make sense to spend these huge amounts of money?"

A freeze on fishing would result in a degeneration of infrastructure and a loss of markets, he said. When the herring industry in the North Sea was closed in the 1970s, he pointed out, "a whole generation lost the art of cooking and eating herring".

Aniol Esteban, who co-authored the Nef report, told the BBC News website that to say Europe was progressing towards sustainable fishing was akin to saying "that instead of driving a car over a cliff at 100mph we are driving it at 90mph".

"Overfishing is not being tackled for the majority of affected stocks, or at a fast enough pace," he added, stressing that the Nef idea would actually boost the fishing industry in the long term.

Asked by the BBC if imports of fish from outside Europe would not have to rise unsustainably as a result of the freeze, he said the alternative to increasing imports was to reduce fish consumption by a fifth until stocks were rebuilt.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    @77 I love those kind of links. 'Once our population is reduced' Very loose term. So assuming this, you limit a family to 1 child say. You will then create an aging population at a rapid rate that will create a mass welfare problem and a huge financial burden, unsustainable via the taxation system (its mildly happening now). It is not as easy as that link suggests im affraid.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    If people are not able to eat fish for five years, the industry will die as we will find alternatives. We may even eat more meat with all the alleged problems that will present to the environemnt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    In societies based on profit-for-goods I can't see anyone paying for this idea...certainly not this government,and I doubt if a change would make any difference.On top of that you'd need international giving up would have little impact.So,they'll all have to give up permanently pretty soon whether they like it or not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    "Does anyone really believe that the French and Spanish fishermen will adhere to a freeze or that the EU will do anything to stop them?"

    You are 100% correct. It would be crazy for the law-abiding UK to mothball its fishing fleet while Latin nations continue to commit fish piracy. Latin Europe is increasingly like Latin America. In these circumstances, the proposal wouldn't work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    A Good Idea !!! Britain should leave the EU and reclaim her exclusive fishing zone , not allowing Spanish and other nationals to register fishing boats/ships in Britain .
    The EU indiscriminate aportioning of fishing rights , a free for all that has caused the over fishing that has so depleted fish stocks

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    This has been coming for years. Just ask any sea-angler about fish levels over the past 15 years. I'm afraid that commercial boats, with numerous technology aids, depleted the stocks years ago.
    Iceland were right.

  • Comment number 77.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    stop fishing all waters, let the fish fix up afler 5 years.Then you still got ajob . Keep fishing to there no more then you haven't got a job .

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    @ 64 Andrew - Excellent suggestion. That would really improve sustainability. It would have to be properly policed. It could also feature size limits/type of boats in different regions to prevent overfishing of nursery areas. It would also stop large factory ships hoovering up far-flung stocks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 74.

    A complete ban on fishing for however many months or years and then reduced quotas would be hard to implement and police but a great idea.. However, as a species we are masters of self destruction so we probably won't learn until our capitalist brains have taken every last fish from the sea and there is nothing left.

  • rate this

    Comment number 73.

    Sounds good, there will be a large cost, but as populations of many fish have decreased over 99% in the last 150 years it makes sense to fill our seas again with fish. It has been proven that leaving stocks to their own devices they will grow rapidly. It would not stop us getting fish, just fish from Eu. All that should be allowed for a while is line fishing. 5 years would not degrade a fleet

  • rate this

    Comment number 72.

    "Does anyone really believe that the French and Spanish fishermen will adhere to a freeze or that the EU will do anything to stop them?"

    Well we have "Iron Man" Cameron at the helm, and cabin boy Clegg providing refreshments..

    It'll either be a glorious victory or we'll have the Spanish fleet sailing round the Lake District.

  • rate this

    Comment number 71.

    collapsing fish stock is a huge problem – aside from being the source of protein for much of the world, also a major input into animal feeds. Should ban all trawling in our seas, boats should still be able to go out and line fish (rods or long length) and bring in everything they catch….fish will be so expensive that catching smaller volumes on the line will still be worthwhile

  • rate this

    Comment number 70.

    to many people. chasing after too few fish.
    either increase fish, or reduce people.

    i guess no one thinks of the second solutions...

  • rate this

    Comment number 69.

    @64 I like, it makes sense. However vested interests will 'lobby' such sensible notions out the window!

  • rate this

    Comment number 68.

    I am a recreational fisherman. I catch fish because I enjoy eating fish. What I've always thought wrong is the commercialization of fish at fast food places.
    I spend a lot of money to go fishing, but it is a win win because I have fun besides eating fish.

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    Does anyone really believe that the French and Spanish fishermen will adhere to a freeze or that the EU will do anything to stop them?

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    Its actually a really good idea.As long as provisions were put in place to guarantee market share this might actually be a sure fire way of ensuring fish stocks long term in the EU. It might actually be better for the fishermen rather than them limping along on tiny quotas until they go bust.

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    So, fishing in the EU waters would be suspended to enable stocks to recover, but wouldn`t stocks in non EU waters be decimated to fill the gap? Also, how does the think tank propose to limit demand? stopping the sale of fish products in the EU?
    As an aside, why aren`t we being allowed to comment on the Hillsborough and problems in the Arab world issues, both huge stories

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The EU quota policy has failed. What is needed is a cap on the size of boats, allowing small boat fishermen to continue unimpeded but prohibit factory ships from coming within 1000KM of EU waters


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