European fisheries ministers expressed their opposition to the Commission’s proposals to improve the dire situation of fisheries in Europe and to pave a path towards a sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

European fisheries ministers expressed their opposition to the Commission’s proposals to improve the dire situation of fisheries in Europe and to pave a path towards a sustainable exploitation of marine resources.

With 72% of assessed EU stocks currently overfished, urgent measures are needed to improve the situation of European fisheries. However, today’s orientation debate indicated that ministers will not agree on an ambitious time table to reach Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) nor let go of detrimental subsidies, such as those in place for vessel scrapping.

Ministers opposed the Commission’s proposal to restore all EU stocks to levels capable of producing the MSY by 2015 at the latest, in line with the political commitment agreed in Johannesburg in 2002. Member States argued that the timeline was too ambitious, and insisted that it should only be reached “where possible” – diluting all ambition from the proposed Commission text.

Seas At Risk (SAR) and the Fisheries Secretariat (FISH) had briefed the ministers in advance of the Council meeting, urging them to immediately reduce fishing mortality and to respect the deadline agreed in Johannesburg. The brief also put forward options to deal with data-deficient stocks, following the examples from Australia and the United States, which have MSY-based management for all stocks, even if data are scarce.

Recent studies clearly show the economic and environmental benefits of restoring fish stocks to levels that can produce MSY. EU Fisheries Ministers are thus missing an opportunity to reap such benefits sooner rather than later.

In their letter to ministers in advance of the meeting, SAR and FISH also highlighted the importance to allocate European funds only to those operators who follow the objectives and rules of the CFP. However, ministers failed to see the importance of ensuring that public funds create public goods and services. Instead several Member States called for an overall increase in funding and in particular to continue subsidies for scrapping – a strategy that has so far failed to align fishing capacity with available fishing opportunities.

The result of these discussions does not bode well for the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. It now remains to be seen whether the European Parliament will support the Council in this unsustainable stance. The Council will agree on a general approach to the CFP reform at its next meeting in June. A final Council position is expected after the Parliament’s plenary vote, which is scheduled for early September.

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