Euro MPs back large-scale fishing reform to save stocks
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.
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.
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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."