July 13, 2024

European Union Proposes Overhaul of Fisheries Policy

But environmentalists said that the plan did not address the overcapacity of the bloated European fleet.

Maria Damanaki, the European Union’s commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries, said in Brussels that the changes were needed because scientific models suggested that only eight of 136 fish stocks in European Union waters would be at sustainable levels in 2022 if no action were taken.

The aim is to secure both fish stocks and fishermen’s livelihood for the future while putting an end to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks, she said.

“If we don’t make structural changes to the way we do business now,” she said, “we will lose one fish stock after the other. I want to break this vicious circle.”

Ms. Damanaki said the introduction of tradable fishing rights, which would be imposed at the national rather than the European Union level, would put responsibility for safeguarding fish stocks with the industry and help reduce overcapacity.

But scientists and conservationists were skeptical that privatizing fish stocks was the solution.

“It’s absolutely not clear how they intend to allocate the rights in the first place,” said Markus Knigge, a fisheries policy adviser to the Pew Environment Group. “What you want is for the most ecologically sustainable fisheries to end up with the rights.”

“The fear is that they won’t even say you have to take environmental and social factors into consideration,” Mr. Knigge added, “but rather just hand over the rights to those who have been overfishing.”

Europeche, an organization of national European fishing organizations, has noted that “opinions are divided on the appropriateness of using transferable fishing rights,” with small-scale coastal fisheries fearing that large fishing companies will crowd them out.

The proposal Wednesday was notable for what it did not contain: any measure to directly reduce the overcapacity in the European fleet.

A previous report to the European Commission had identified the mismatch between fleet and fish as the most important issue to be addressed.

“Trading around fishing quotas won’t stop overfishing, especially without a clear pathway to bring the fleet size in line with how much fish is left in the sea,” Saskia Richartz, a fisheries policy adviser at Greenpeace, said in a statement.

Critics of Europe’s fisheries policy say that much of the problem comes from the subsidies the industry receives, well over 1 billion euros (about $1.39 billion) a year, according to Fishsubsidy.org, with Spain’s fleet alone getting about half.

They say the subsidies — in the form of tax breaks on diesel fuel and aid for building, modernizing and scrapping vessels — results in too many boats to chase too few fish, and leaves the industry dependent on public largess.

Another measure proposed on Wednesday would eliminate rules requiring the discarding of bycatch, or valuable species taken incidentally. The move to end the wasteful practice was welcomed by both the fishing industry and conservationists, who hope it will result in the use of more selective techniques to catch the target fish.

The bycatch issue has recently become the subject of a television campaign led by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, a British celebrity chef, who has collected nearly 700,000 signatures of support for ending the current practice.

Opponents claim that current European Union rules lead to as much as 50 percent of the entire catch being dumped backed into the ocean — dead — because fishing operators are not allowed to land species for which they have already met their quotas.

Conservationists welcomed a proposal that all fish stocks are “to be brought to sustainable levels by 2015,” in line with the bloc’s international commitments. But skepticism remains there as well because fishing decisions in Europe tend to be made on political rather than scientific grounds, and many national governments lack the will to enforce regulations.

The proposal, part of a once-a-decade review of the bloc’s Common Fisheries Policy, may require a year or more of negotiation and consultation before being adopted.

The European Commission strongly backs the measures, officials say, and the final rules are expected to be largely in line with the current plan.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=35eb137c2688326a57189fc4cb5d1d15

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