The European Union's announcement of the 2007 fishing quotas has provoked the usual outcry. Especially unhappy this time around are the cod fisherman of Scotland and Northern Ireland, who face the tightest quotas in the coming year. But a painful reality risks being drowned out by this clamour: present levels of cod fishing in Europe are, even with these latest restrictions, unsustainable.
These new quotas are indeed a blow for the fishermen who rely on the cod catch for their livelihood. Some will inevitably be forced into bankruptcy. But it is not in the interests of any of Europe's fishing fleets, nor the communities they support, for cod to become effectively extinct, as occurred on the Grand Banks. This is exactly what is projected to happen by the middle of the century unless urgent action is taken to preserve stocks.
Outrage should be directed not at EU regulation but at the failure of the EU to regulate sufficiently firmly. The EU's cod recovery programme has failed to yield significant results over the past three years.
If fisheries ministers and national governments were serious about wanting stocks to recover, they would impose a complete ban on cod fishing for the immediate future. Instead they have come up with another fudge that neither satisfies fishermen, nor guarantees cod stocks the time and space to recover.
New thinking is needed. Fishing quotas are no longer a matter of balancing the economic interests of the member states of the EU, but of preserving the ecology of European waters. It is time that decisions on these matters were taken out of the hands of fisheries ministers and placed in the hands of Europe's environment ministers.