European Parliament Committee Takes Positive Step Toward Sustainable Fisheries

The European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee approved a multi-annual plan (MAP) for the Baltic Sea on March 31 that could prove a significant step toward ending overfishing in EU waters.

This was a critical decision for establishing the principle that these plans should match the objectives set in the European Union’s recently reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Most importantly, the CFP seeks to restore and maintain fish populations above levels that can produce what is known as the maximum sustainable yield, the largest average catch that can be taken without affecting the long-term stability of the population. The version passed by the committee reversed an initial European Commission proposal for this MAP that fell well short of the CFP’s ambition to end EU overfishing.

Committee members also supported measures that would kick in as soon as fish stocks fell below the maximum sustainable yield biomass level. Such a provision is crucial to ensuring that stocks are restored and maintained at healthy levels able to deliver sustainable fishing. Unfortunately, the committee did not make clear that these objectives should apply to all stocks, including by-catch—non-target species caught by commercial fishing vessels.

We are now looking ahead to a vote by all 751 members of the European Parliament in late April that would confirm the committee’s multi-annual plan for restoring fish stocks in the Baltic. We urge EU fisheries ministers to match this strong language on ending overfishing in their position on the plan.

To help inform public debate and government decisions, The Pew Charitable Trusts recently released Turning the Tide, a report that describes the role that Europe’s north-western waters played in the development of countless communities along their shores and how, in a cruel twist, this resulted in overfishing of the valuable fish stocks so critical to the economic well-being of those communities.

In May 2013, EU decision-makers agreed to halt and even reverse the effects of this overfishing when they secured a deal to restore fish stocks above levels able to produce the maximum sustainable yield. The ambitious CFP reform includes a commitment to end overfishing by 2015, where possible, and by 2020 at the latest. However, the CFP can realise its potential only if these same decision-makers have the courage to implement the requirements fully and without delay.

Multi-annual plans such as this one for the Baltic Sea are intended to minimize decision-making based on short-term interests and maximize the likelihood of sustainable fishing practices. The fisheries committee’s support of the MAP for the Baltic follows the CFP objective, as spelled out in the plan, of “achieving maximum sustainable yield exploitation rates that will restore and maintain populations of harvested species above levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield.”

As we describe in Turning the Tide, the CFP can succeed only if those charged with implementing the reforms maintain their focus.

Uta Bellion directs The Pew Charitable Trusts’ European marine programme.

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