The Opportunity to Fix Europe's Depleted Fisheries

  • July 13, 2011

Europe aims to return its fish, fishers and waters to their former richness.

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Europe's depleted fisheries

The European Commission has unveiled a long-awaited proposal to reform EU fisheries management. Europe's fishing grounds were once amongst the most productive in the world, but thirty years of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) have resulted in serious depletion of fish populations, ecosystem degradation, and damage to species, habitats and sites supposedly protected by European Union (EU) environmental legislation. Fishing has become unsustainable, increasingly unprofitable and reliant on public subsidies. This in turn has led to socio-economic vulnerability in coastal communities and a growing reliance on imported fish.


In her presentation of the proposal at the Commission on July 13, 2011, EU fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said “Our current system is not working in favour of sustainability… if we don't make structural changes to the way we do business now, we will lose one fish stock after the other. I want to break this vicious circle… I sincerely hope that this is the birthday of a new, flexible and intelligent fisheries policy that is fit for today's environmental and economic challenges. Europe needs more fish, more wealth and more jobs. We won't have that without profound change.”

The opportunity for change

The pressure for change continues to build. European citizens attended nearly 50 events in 13 member states during this year's European Fish Week from June 4-12 to express their concern about the current state of Europe's offshore waters and the need to revitalise them.The stories collected, inspired by the former richness of Europe's seas and fishing communities, are being delivered to EU fisheries ministers with the message “we want it back."


Calendar photo appearing in the European Voice's calendar for July
© OCEAN2012 and Corey Arnold

On July 12, OCEAN2012 Irish members presented fisheries minister Simon Coveney to present him with the results of European Fish Week in Ireland. On July 13, OCEAN2012 and major UK NGOs presented their joint position and objectives for a successful reform to UK fisheries minister, Richard Benyon.

Over 700,000 Europeans have so far signed up in support of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Fish Fight campaign to stop over half of all fish caught from being thrown back overboard in the North Sea.

But will the Commission's proposal end overfishing, reduce damage to ecosystems, and re-build an EU fishing sector that is environmentally sustainable as well as economically and socially viable? Will Europe's consumers be guaranteed a rich variety of responsibly and locally caught fish into the future?

The Pew-led OCEAN2012 coalition believes the Commission's proposal includes solid targets for the recovery of European fish stocks, including the aim to restore and maintain fish populations of harvested species above levels which can produce maximum sustainable yield and the requirement that measures be taken in accordance with the best available scientific advice. These measures could bring an end to overfishing in EU waters and by its fleet internationally.

However, the Commission's proposal falls short in the way it addresses overcapacity, which its own 2009 Green Paper identified as a key driver of overfishing. “Instead of mandating capacity ceilings, it aims to decrease the EU fishing fleet by what amounts to the quasi-privatisation of EU fish resources,” said director of Pew's European Marine Programme and coordinator of the OCEAN2012 coalition.“This type of approach has a mixed track record in other countries and would fail to provide compensation to the public for the loss of communal fishery resources or to reward those who fish in the most environmentally and socially responsible way.”

What next?

It is now up to the European Parliament (made up of elected representatives of all EU citizens) and the EU Fisheries Council (made up of EU member states fisheries ministers) to ensure that the future CFP achieves healthy fish stocks and contributes to achieving good environmental status for EU waters under the 2008 Marine Strategy Framework Directive.

“The European Parliament must work with the EU Fisheries Council to reverse the trend and take the lead in delivering responsible and sustainable fisheries for Europe,” Bellion concluded.

A recent history of the CFP and tentative timeline for next steps


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Media Contact: Mike Walker

Topics: Oceans, Environment