The European Commission has today published its proposal for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. After 2 years of consultations, the proposal contains valuable elements, but falls short of what is needed to ensure sustainable fisheries in the EU.

The European Commission has today published its proposal for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. After 2 years of consultations, the proposal contains valuable elements, but falls short of what is needed to ensure sustainable fisheries in the EU.

The proposal includes internationally agreed targets for the recovery of fish stocks that could see the end of overfishing in EU waters, if it receives the support of the Council and the European Parliament. It also encourages higher selectivity and partially addresses the wasteful practice of discarding perfectly good fish at sea.

However, the proposal fails to recognize the need for a healthy marine ecosystem as a prerequisite for viable fisheries and does not commit Member States to follow scientific advice when setting fishing opportunities.

Dr. Monica Verbeek, Executive Director of Seas At Risk said: “More ambitious management targets for stocks will only halt overfishing if Ministers are obliged to set fishing quotas based on the best available scientific advice. We can no longer afford to put fish stocks at risk with the annual horse trading of quotas.”

So far, the CFP has contributed to serious depletion of fish populations, ecosystem degradation and damage to habitats. Fishing is largely unsustainable, increasingly unprofitable and dependent on public subsidies. Considering the Commission’s repeated assertions on the need for a radical reform of the CFP, this is not the ambitious proposal European citizens were promised.

The most radical element of the proposal is a controversial mandatory plan to give away the access to fish stocks to fishermen active today across the EU in the form of transferable fishing concessions. This is the Commission’s main element to address overcapacity – a key driver of overfishing – after earlier failures caused by weak measures and poor implementation in Member States.

“It is deeply worrying that the Commission is now turning to “the market” to solve the problem of overcapacity, without putting any safeguards in place to ensure that the most damaging vessels are removed from the fleet, while protecting those who fish in the most sustainable manner” deplores Dr. Monica Verbeek.

Smaller vessels (below 12m in length and using passive gear) would not be obliged to enter such a privatisation scheme. However, the proposal also fails to suggest any sort of management model for this segment of the fleet, which currently makes up more than 70% of the number of vessels in the EU.

This reform offers a unique opportunity to recover the well-being of European seas and fishing communities. The responsibility to ensure an effective reform now rests primarily with the Council and European Parliament who will further negotiate and amend the proposed legislation, following the ordinary legislative procedure. The final result is not expected before mid-2013.

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