Europe

Call to freeze fishing in Europe to replenish stocks

  • 14 September 2012
  • From the section Europe
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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)
Image caption The European Union has been agonising over fishing policy for years

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.

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.

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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