Euro MPs back large-scale fishing reform to save stocks

Scallop fishing off northern France - file pic More data is needed about species to make Europe's fishing more sustainable

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The European Parliament has voted for sweeping reforms of the controversial EU Common Fisheries Policy.

The package includes measures to protect endangered stocks and end discards - the practice of throwing unwanted dead fish into the sea.

Wasteful discards are reckoned to account for a quarter of total catches under the current quota system.

There are hopes that the changes can become law by next year, after more talks with the 27 EU governments.

The MEPs voted for the package by 502 votes to 137.

The Greens in parliament called the vote "historic". Spokeswoman Isabella Lovin said it would "finally put the EU's fisheries policy on a sustainable footing".

A fishing alliance, Europeche, says the reforms are too sudden and too radical.

With an estimated 75% of Europe’s stocks overfished, there has been enormous public and media pressure over this latest attempt to shake up the CFP.

Pie chart - EU catches in 2010

The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin says the vote is something of a victory for citizen power, following organised lobbying of MEPs by ordinary people, as well as by high-profile celebrity chefs and environmentalists.

The reform package was presented to the full parliament in Strasbourg by the German Social Democrat MEP Ulrike Rodust.

She said the reforms “will bring an end to the December ritual of fisheries ministers negotiating until 4am, neglecting scientific advice and setting too high fishing quotas.

“As of 2015, the principle of maximum sustainable yield shall apply, which means that each year we do not harvest more fish than a stock can reproduce. Our objective is that depleted fish stocks recover by 2020. Not only nature will benefit, but also fishermen: bigger stocks produce higher yields.”

She said fishermen had to be helped through a transitional period as fishing capacity shrank to allow stocks to recover.

Parliamentary clout

MEPs are sharing power with the Council - the EU governments - on fisheries policy for the first time. There is still some dispute about the amount of influence MEPs can exert over fishing quotas.


This historic vote is something of a victory for citizen power over a policy that has brought the EU into disrepute.

MEPs were bombarded with complaints, following high-profile campaigns from celebrity chefs and environmentalists.

The scale of the vote is significant.

The parliament will now speak with a unified voice in the endgame of negotiations with fisheries ministers and the Commission - which already urges sustainable fishing.

Ministers from nations with large fleets. like France and Spain, may attempt to weaken the resolutions, but they will find themselves swimming against a powerful tide.

MEPs have made some tough choices. For instance, they had an option to vote for maximum sustainable yield - that is taking as much fish as the sea can reproduce annually. They demanded instead that fisheries should be allowed to grow, rather than to stay at their current depleted level.

This argument is not over yet. There will be debate over how far to help small boats; how to cushion fishermen while stocks are recovering; and how much fisheries shall be allowed to recuperate (one UK fishery was reduced by 94% over 118 years of commercial fishing).

But today's votes will surely lead in the direction of the change the public have been demanding.

Follow Roger on Twitter @rharrabin

Under the new proposals, the EU will shift from the current bargaining over quotas - a system often attacked by environmental groups - to fishing based on "maximum sustainable yield" (MSY).

The phasing in of MSY depends on collecting more scientific data about the rate at which different marine species reproduce.

The environmental group Greenpeace welcomed the MEPs' vote on Wednesday, saying the reforms would help to promote small-scale and low-impact fishing methods.

Greenpeace says small-scale fishing vessels measuring 12m (40ft) or less make up about 80% of the European fishing sector and usually cause less environmental harm.

The group's spokesperson on EU fisheries policy, Saskia Richartz, called it "a momentous shift away from overfishing".

"National governments that stand in the way of reform, like Spain and France, will find it increasingly hard to act as proxies for a handful of powerful companies, with no concern for the long-term wellbeing of the oceans or the majority of fishermen," she said.

Atlantic bluefin tuna is the most overfished species in European waters.

But the environmental group WWF says EU fisheries have also faced a 32% decline in stocks of cod, plaice and sole since 1993.

The fish catch in the North Sea has slumped from 3.5m tonnes in 1995 to 1.5m tonnes in 2007, WWF reports.

The UK Conservatives' fisheries spokesman, Struan Stevenson MEP, said "these reforms will be wresting control away from the micro-managers in Brussels who have made such an absolute mess of fisheries policy for the past 30 years".

"We will also see an urgent timetable set for an absolute ban on the scandal of dumping and discards."


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  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    On Hugh's/CH4's documentary last year it was clear that where fishermen were returning 50% of their catch they were being forced to make double the journeys to sea. They were endangering themselves twice and using twice the amount of gas oil because 1 out of 2 trips was unneccessary. Only the EU could invent this madness. Farage for PM.

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    164. ken1760

    . . . surely fish quotas should be awarded on the basis of length of coastline in the particular area being fished . . . in the same way as oil exploration is managed

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    This is why we need the EU, they create regulations which are right not only for the majority - protecting the vulnerable; they are mostly right too for the environment.
    Much more needs to be done to impose regulations on unscrupulous and damaging methods by countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    If all catches are ultimately landed and discards disappear how ever will our retailers be able to handle the daily uncertainty/variability/size of what can be supplied ? Being told this is what you are getting is not the way that they normally conduct business !

  • Comment number 204.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    Utterly shocking. Our fishermen overfish, they need to be controlled, they aren't angels. But, why should our fishing rights be restricted to Danish & Norwegian coasts? Why should France have 10x the allowance in the English Channel that we do? Why should Germany with almost zero coastline be allowed 95% of the quote that we have? No wonder Germany is still so pro EU. Get us our waters back!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    182- Processors do for terrestrial and fish including farmed but the terrestrial farms themselves often don't. The effluent from farms is a significant eutrophication source to rivers, not to mention sheep dip etc. Protein in salmon feeds is still 25% marine, in the UK mostly from by-products of pelagic fisheries such as herring. This is an efficient use of that resource which otherwise is wasted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 201.

    We need an escalating tax so that the more fish a ship brings back, the higher the tax rate.

    This would stop ships throwing fish back as it's better to pay tax than scrap a catch and would support small independent boats.

    At a stroke it would improve employment as the small boats are more labour intensive, stop waste as no fish would be discarded and raise more tax from the larger operations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    Not one mention of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall in the article above, a touch churlish by the Beeb, which is a pity seeing as how he was the driving force for the change.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    About time ! Throwing away dead fish was just obscene.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    So MSY and the science that lies behind it is no good. Unfortunately that is all we have atm.
    What is your alternative ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    At last a good decision, the MP's cost a fortune but have saved some money.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    The Uk catch is 12%, how does that compare to the % of EU tonnage fished in UK waters? does anyone know?

  • Comment number 195.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    It would help in conservation if countries like France and Spain enforced the rules instead of turning a blind eye to blatant law breaking by their fishing fleets.

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    How you know what the quota will be??
    I hope Scotland gets its independence perhaps they their quotas would be better negotiated by their Parliament NOT WESTMINSTER!!
    I'm sure that if the Scots became independent they willl be able to renegotiate the quotas that affet their waters surely the EU is flexible enough to allow for that.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    I'm very glad to hear that we won't be throwing back dead fish but using them instead. However, there must be a whole foodchain down there dependent on the stuff thrown in. Why don't we throw in UKIP and other Europhobes instead? Mind you, they must taste as nasty as their utterances. Ugh!

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    Why not stop discard now, while there's still some left ?????

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    "Maximum Sustainable Yield" is just pretentious, devious & wrong.

    You cannot farm/manage fish stocks as you can livestock, there are just too many variables.

    30 years ago, they used the same pathetic similar propaganda, all talk about sustainable fishing & protecting/increasing fish stocks.

    So off the mark, like aiming for the moon & ending up on Mars, pathetic political drivel

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    The Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster. It was devised when Britain entered Common Market and became a condition of our entry. We should have nothing to do with it. The UK's fishing grounds are the largest in the EU and have been decimated by the CFP. Ending discard is vital and it is scandalous it has been allowed to exist let alone continue for this long. Another reason to leave the EU.


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