European Commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries Maria Damanaki on Wednesday presented her proposals for reforming the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, raising the alarm concerning the dangers of overfishing and the now serious depletion of fish stocks in European seas.
The European Commission reforms are designed to secure fish stocks, decentralise decision-making and end wasteful practices such as the systematic discarding of catches.
Presenting the long-awaited proposals, Damanaki said: "Action is needed now to get all our fish stocks back into a healthy state, to preserve them for present and future generations. Only under this precondition can fishermen continue to fish and earn a decent living out of their activities." The plans include ensuring that fish stocks are on a sustainable footing by 2015, ending micro-management from Brussels by handing detailed decision-making back to member states, and introducing a market system whereby quotas can be traded by operators within but not between member states. Should the commission get its way there would also be a reduction in the size of the fishing fleet.
The policy of throwing back dead fish which exceed quotas - currently accounting for 23 per cent of all catches - will be ended for some fish species, and in those cases fishermen will be obliged to land their entire catch.
Today Damanaki said that 75 per cent of the EU's fishing stocks are over-exploited - while Europe still imports two thirds of its fish from elsewhere. She added: "This means that we have to manage each stock wisely, harvesting what we can but keeping the stock healthy and productive for the future. This will bring us higher catches, a sound environment and a secure seafood supply. If we get this reform right, fishermen and coastal communities will be better off in the long run. And all Europeans will have a wider choice of fresh fish, both wild and farm produced."
The Commission wants to base long-term plans on scientific evidence, provide better information to consumers about the source of fish and, for example, whether products are fresh or defrosted, and hand a stronger role to fisherman's organisations. Fisheries would be managed under multi-annual plans, and in relations with non-EU countries sustainability and good governance would be promoted. According to the Commission, its reforms could see crew wages rise by between 50 and 100 per cent by 2022, and income in the industry rise by 20 per cent.
Damanaki's proposals also call for strick mechanisms for confining economic assistance to activities that are environmentally-friendly and contribute to smart and sustainable development, ruling out all distorting funding of illegal activities or excessive fishing capability.
One of the issues emphasised by the Commission is the need to reduce the size of Europe's fishing fleet, which it says is now too large and efficient for the present level of fish stocks. As a result, fisheries are diminishing year by year and coastal communities that often depend upon them are seeing their incomes shrink.
It also notes that the decisions made by political leaders tend to favour short-term gains over long-term preservation of resources while Brussels has also given very few incentives for adopting a more responsible approach and a sustainable use of resources.