In parliament >> The year of the fish

15th January 2014

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  • Natural resources ,
  • EU ,
  • Ecosystems ,
  • Agriculture ,
  • Biodiversity


Rob Wright

Chris Davies, Liberal Democrat environment spokesperson in the European parliament, discusses the great achievements in EU fisheries policy last year

What was Europe’s greatest environmental achievement in 2013? Surely it has been putting in place the policies needed to rebuild Europe’s depleted fish stocks.

Agreement was reached on reform of the EU common fisheries policy (CFP), and at its heart lies a new legally binding requirement that government ministers must aim to achieve stock levels above maximum sustainable yield by 2020. A curb on discards, decentralisation of day-to-day fisheries management, and the preparation of long-term management plans for every fishery all help to reinforce the core objective.

If the policy change represented nothing other than mere words, I might ask for proof of delivery before offering praise. But the signs of improvement are manifold, or at least they are away from the Mediterranean and Black Sea, where different policies exist and nations outside the EU are involved.

The European commission reports much improvement. In 2011, there were 51 species where data on numbers were poor in the North Sea and Atlantic, but that number is now just 12. And EU fisheries ministers are listening to the scientists. At their December meeting, ministers embraced the principles of the new CFP, setting tough quotas in the belief that short-term pain will provide long-term gain. The commission says that 30 stocks in the North Sea and Atlantic will now be fished at maximum sustainable yield by 2015.

Researchers at York University have revealed that the wooden fishing vessels of a century ago were landing proportionally more fish than the technologically sophisticated marine hunters of today, with fish landed then often bigger than those now seen. Ocean warming and acidification pose new problems, but the depletion of stocks is almost entirely due to overfishing. If the 2013 reforms lead to more and bigger fish in Europe’s seas, that will be an enormous achievement.


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