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 271.

    I'm an angler and personally I feel the seas are slowly recovering, last year was one of the best in my lifetime for Plaice and species like Sharks and Rays are thriving. Bass nursery zones were a step in the right direction but allowing trawling at places like Kingsmere Rocks whilst the Bream spawn there is madness. I remember the fishless 1990s fishing with my dad. Still some way to go though.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    It's not just overfishing of individual fish species that is the problem. Modern industrial fishing methods damage the sea-bed itself, a crucial element in the ecology of the sea, and are thus a danger to the whole marine environment.

    But these measures are a first important step in curbing the vast and horrendous damage that this industry now does to four-fifths of our planet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    The sooner we stop throwing back unwanted or over quota fish the better. I often wonder how many millions of pounds worth of fish do we throw back. After all they can't swim away to get bigger can they!

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    On face of it seems good, partc discards. However when will the large deep sea trawlers be stopped from hoovering up everything in sight? Much more management of OUR waters by us and more leeway for uk inshore fishermen who seem to be pilloried when only trying to sustain a living without mass extermination ofstocks

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    I am looking to read the detail of this change before I get too excited.
    Hopefully all European countries fishing fleets can be controlled and monitored effectively. As also Boat sizes and net mesh sizes.
    How do we monitor Non European fishing fleets in European waters?
    Probably more questions than answers as always.


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