Reforms 'will not stop overfishing'

 

Plans to reform Europe's fishing industry would not stop the destruction of fish stocks for at least another decade, campaigners claimed today.

Greenpeace activists chained themselves to fishing buoys outside talks in Luxembourg while others waved banners demanding: "EU ministers, stop overfishing".

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Thilo Maack said: "Ministers are acting irresponsibly, endangering the future of our seas. The deal would allow a greedy industry to continue overfishing for the next decade, bank-rolled by millions in EU subsidies.

"We cannot allow this to happen and this is why we want ministers to find the guts to stop destructive fishing and reward those who fish responsibly."

On the table for Europe's fisheries ministers are the latest European Commission proposals for balancing fishermen's livelihoods with the need to conserve stocks for the long-term survival of the sector.

After years of dwindling white fish stocks and declining fishing communities, the Commission is also backing growing public resentment that the current CFP encourages "discards" - the dumping of dead fish back in the sea.

The issue has been publicised across the UK by celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, whose "Hugh's Fish Fight" campaign has been praised by Brussels amid pledges to change a system which forces fleets to dump their "by-catch" - any non-quota fish species they have netted accidentally - or face penalties.

The Commission also wants to bring in a long-term fish quota management system, rather than the discredited annual haggling in which ministers wrangle to raise catch quotas for their own fleets in defiance of scientific warnings about the need for cuts.

Today's reform plan calls for more accurate scientific evidence on which to base decisions, and for an end to "micro-managing" the fisheries policy in Brussels.

Instead, day to day decision-making would be devolved to regional fisheries bodies across Europe.

The Commission says that in 2004 alone, an estimated 7.3 million tonnes of fish - 8% of the total EU fish catches in that year - were dumped back in the sea.

In the European whitefish industry, up to half the catch is thrown overboard - and as much as 70% in the flatfish industry.

Last year the North Sea fishery nations - Britain, France, Germany and Denmark - signed a joint declaration committing themselves to end the discard system.

But no final decisions will be reached today - the aim is an agreement on the "general approach" towards putting EU fisheries back on a sustainable footing.

A Greenpeace statement said: "While the ministers acknowledge that action plans are needed to reduce the oversized European fishing fleet, the deal neither contains deadlines to reduce fishing power to sustainable levels, nor have ministers committed to target their action at those parts of the fleet that contribute most to overfishing.

"The deal does recognise the need for a phase-out of the controversial practice of throwing unwanted catches overboard (known as discarding), but the measures to achieve this are littered with loopholes. All in all, the deal falls far short of the necessary transition to sustainable, low-impact fisheries and would result in very little change in the way the fishing industry operates.

EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki insisted last week that there were sings of fish stock recovery

And the Commission has blamed successive years of enforced cuts on fleets routinely breaching catch quotas and delaying stock recovery.

Today, however, ahead of EU fisheries reform talks next week, Mrs Damanaki declared: "We are now seeing some improvements towards ending overfishing, but we need to go the extra mile and adopt Common Fisheries Policy reform if we want to guarantee these improvements in the long term".

PA

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