Fishermen blamed for failure to conserve stocks

The European Commission will deliver a hammer blow to the remains of Europe’s fishing fleet tomorrow.

A new report on the future of the controversial Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) effectively admits that many years of conservation measures have failed – and blames greedy fishermen for the problem.

Fishermen have been told for years they must endure short-term sacrifices to allow main fish stocks to recover and secure the fishing industry’s long-term future.

But today’s report confirms that stocks are still in dire straits, with fleets accused of prolonging the agony by exceeding annual catch quotas and delaying the time when fish are plentiful once more.

The finding is a damning indictment of the CFP, established in 1983 to carve up EU fishing waters between the national fleets.

The policy is characterised by the annual haggling over catch allowances, with fisheries ministers caught between scientific recommendations to cut back drastically on catch sizes, and the need to maintain livelihoods for hard-pressed fishing fleets.

Promises that belt-tightening today will reap rewards tomorrow have exasperated fishing communities- typified most recently by last week’s port blockade by French boats demanding a re-negotiation of last December’s quota deal which they say left them with little hope of a future.

Today’s Commission “Green Paper” contains their worst fears – that the endlessly-promised revival of key fish stocks, notably North Sea Cod, has not materialised.

The Commission will insist the document is the start of a consultation with fishermen’s organisations, but the start point is the claim that, despite the drastic cut back of the last few years, the EU fishing fleet remains too large for the available fish stocks.

As a sop, the report says fishermen themselves should get more power to manage stocks, but it insists that overfishing and a resistance to fleet reduction, has thwarted conservation measures.

The only answer is further deep cuts in fishing effort and more voluntary scrapping of boats in the fleet – something fishermen say they cannot afford.

A Commission spokesman insisted the fishermen themselves would have a say in the future: “All issues are up for debate, including the fundamentals of the current system. The Commission wants to take a fresh approach to fisheries and ask how we can both ensure the future viability of the fishing sector and preserve the marine resources on which it depends.

"A sustainable way for providing Europe’s citizens with high-quality sea-food products must be found through an innovative policy fit for the challenges and concerns of the 21st century. ”

The report says that 80% of fish stocks in EU waters are still overfished, and about 30% of stocks are “outside safe biological limits, meaning that there is a real risk of collapse of these stocks".

Catches have fallen to such an extent that Europe now relies on imports for two-thirds of its fish consumption.

The result is that the majority of EU fishing fleets live on low profits or are even running at a loss, and the report warns: “The EU fishing fleet has the capacity to catch much more fish than can safely be removed from the sea without jeopardising the future productivity of the fish stocks. ”

The Commission says the challenges need urgent attention, with a view to fundamental CFP reform in 2013.

But the findings will only revive eurosceptic calls for the repatriation of fisheries policy to national control.


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