New hope for EU fish industry as stocks ‘recover’

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Fishing fleets could net millions in extra income thanks to a revival in stocks of key species, the European Commission (EC) said yesterday.

Twenty fish stocks in European Union (EU) waters are now considered to be within sustainable fishing limits, compared with only five in 2009, fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said. The figures are rare good news after years in which fishermen have faced massive catch reductions in the name of conservation and on the promise of plenty tomorrow.

The EC has blamed successive years of enforced cuts on fleets routinely breaching catch quotas and delaying stock recovery.

Yesterday, 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 (CFP) reform if we want to guarantee these improvements in the long term.”

A commission “consultation document” looking at fishing opportunities for next year says efforts to halt overfishing are starting to work, thanks to reduced annual catch quotas in recent years.

The effectiveness of quota cuts allowed increases in the total allowable catch (TAC) for some stocks this year, says the report – with an estimated extra income for the fishing industry of 135 million euro (£109m).

An EC statement said: “The figures show that following scientific advice when setting TACs helps fish stocks rebuild.

“As a result, fishermen are rewarded with higher catches and higher income, and the environmental impact of fishing is less.”

It said the revival of stocks and the resulting income boost reinforced the need to reform the CFP to build on the benefits - because sticking to annual TAC limits alone would not be enough.

“Long-term management, a fully science-based approach and eliminating catastrophic practices such as discarding (dumping non-quota stocks caught in nets accidentally) are needed, as spelled out in the Commission proposals on CFP reform,” the document added.

The EC says the scientific advice on which annual catch cuts are based is improving, with more and more stocks being assessed more accurately on the basis of the science.

The upbeat note came as lobby groups mounted a campaign against what they see as compromise proposals on EU fishing policy.