Timothy Kirkhope: Fishermen are being trapped in a net of frustration and flawed EU decisions

THE EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which brought fishing in European waters under the control of Brussels, was supposed to protect and encourage fishing. It has failed and has become symbolic of flawed EU decision making. It is time to change it.

There is plenty of evidence illustrating the problems. Visit any fish and chip shop in Yorkshire and the response behind the counter is the same: "Cod is scarce". Our old favourite is in decline and prices have soared. Talk to fishermen and they describe their frustration. Cod is out there but they can't bring it in. European quotas are set so low and the remaining days they are allowed to fish are so few, that their livelihoods are being threatened. What is even more galling is that, by law, any fish that are surplus must be thrown overboard, a terrible practice known as "discards".

This practice has been brought to the attention of the wider public only recently. On television, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall revealed that over one million tonnes of fish are being dumped annually in the North Sea. It's not news to MEPs however, who almost unanimously have condemned the practice since it began.

This is a public relations disaster for the European Commission, which runs the CFP. It is caused by quotas which are set in Brussels and every year, when the new quota rates are announced, the row over discards starts up again. Every year anger mounts.

And these quotas don't just cause the problem of discards. There is evidence that in some cases they were detrimental to fish stocks.

The quotas were blamed for a drop in the number of cod. How? In order to reduce discards of the species, haddock fishing was reduced because the two fish are generally caught together in the same nets. This led to an over abundance of haddock recently, and this is hit cod numbers: haddock feed on young cod.

This is a complex issue which requires careful handling if we are to keep the delicate balance that exists between man's needs and those of our marine ecosystem.

That's why I support a "land all" policy, so that all fish caught are brought on land. It would reduce waste, it would be more ethical and it would help scientists who would be able to monitor the health of fish stocks more efficiently.

This policy would have to be coupled with the Commission's idea of introducing more selective fishing, but I would also like to see more decision-making brought back to a regional level.

And here is a crucial point: the Commission really must give back some of the power it took in 1990s when the CFP was being developed. Yes, we need joined up thinking, but we also need decentralised control so that those who know best can at least have a say in what is happening on their waters.

The fishing industry in Yorkshire has suffered a series of setbacks in recent years. Those EU quotas are strangling the life out of our once vibrant fishing community. Even the regeneration of the Grimsby fish market has been put on hold due to a lack of funding.

It's time the Commission helped the fishing industry.

I see a role for the EU in trying to make jobs more attractive for young people, sharing best practice, and better informing the men and women that work in fisheries of its decisions. If we're ever going to give it a future, we need to act now. Otherwise the small vessels that work off our coastline will disappear for good.

In many ways the EU is like the CFP. It's a great idea that's fallen on hard times. It needs to change if it is going to survive. It needs to see the big picture as well as the local one. It must communicate better. It should give back power to its people. It will only be a success if it produces results, if it creates prosperity and growth.

And it must care for our fish too.

Timothy Kirkhope is the Conservative MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber. He is deputy chairman of the ECR Group.

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