Campaigners hail ‘turning point’ on fisheries reforms

MEPs have backed the biggest reform plan in the history of the EU’s ill-starred fisheries policy –vowing to restore fish stocks after years of failed conservation measures and to return profitability to fishing communities.

Measures approved in a vote in Strasbourg include banning within three years the current practice of dumping dead fish back in the sea – a consequence of current Common Fisheries Policy rules restricting the size of landed catches under a complex system of quotas.

Yesterday’s deal also offers more control over managing the CFP to regional fishing organisations – although some UK politicians have been demanding nothing less than the scrapping of the CFP altogether and the “repatriation” of fisheries policy.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

No final deal is done until a last stage – a three-way negotiation involving MEPs, EU fisheries ministers and the European Commission. But the fact that the European Parliament now has “co-decision” powers over fishing policy means more clout for the measures MEPs and the Commission have put on the table.

EU fisheries ministers have been accused for years of ignoring the science about the need for reduced fishing to deliver long-term stock recovery. The priority of national governments, complain critics, has been to win the biggest catch allowances regardless of conservation.

And the Commission has warned that failure to police agreed catch limits has also played a hand in failure to deliver the long-promised recovery of key stocks and halt the decline of fishing communities.

As the vote went through, CFP reform campaigners outside the European Parliament building were still calling for clear measures to end the practice of “discards” – dumping surplus fish back into the sea to avoid breaching quotas.

Ahead of the vote EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki – who once admitted the CFP was “broken” – said almost one quarter of all fish caught were currently being dumped at sea.

She said yesterday’s deal, if finally confirmed as planned by the end of June, would boost fish stocks by 15m tonnes by 2020, and increase fish landings for fleets by 500,000 tonnes. Fishing incomes would rise by 25 per cent, with a third more jobs created.

Greenpeace welcomed a pledge to set a target of 2015 to return fish stocks to “sustainable” levels, as well as promoting small-scale and low-impact fishing methods and banning discards.

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Willie Mackenzie said: “This vote marks a crucial turning point in the battle to save Europe’s seas from overfishing and protect the livelihoods of coastal fishermen, but if Britain is to benefit from this reform there’s a lot more we need to do at home. Unless we change the way fishing quotas are allocated, the future of the UK’s sector will remain hostage to big fishing interests that seek short-term profits whilst creating long-term damage.”