A New Direction for European Fishing

February 6, 2013, marks an important turning point for European fishing.
During a plenary session, the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority (502 in favor and 137 against) to approve the proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy. The reform’s most ambitious objectives include the adoption of fishing quotas by 2015 that will allow Maximum Sustainable Yields to be reached by 2020, and the banning of discards, accidentally caught fish that are thrown back into the sea. The reforms should come into effect in 2014, after further discussion between the Parliament and the Council, which represents the EU member states.

Slow Food has been following the legislative process with interest, and is glad to see that in the future the Council will have to confront the parliamentarians in a co-decision process that will increase in transparency and see greater participation of civil society in the debate. It is also happy to see that the decisions made finally take into consideration not only economic but also ecological parameters.

This reform, however, is still based on applying an industrial logic to fishing, while seeking to neutralize its most negative effects. It will still seriously hit artisanal fishing (which makes up 80% of the European fleet and has a low environmental impact), and to be effective it must be accompanied by an equally ambitious “Common Environmental Policy.”

Silvio Greco, the president of the Scientific Committee of Slow Fish, Slow Food’s long-running responsible fishing campaign, applauds the fact that the European Union has understood the necessity of intervening decisively on the question of protecting marine resources, with measures aimed at combating overfishing based on selective fishing techniques. However, he also emphasized the need to take adequate measures to eliminate coastal pollution, one of the causes of falling fish stocks.

The new policy must also take into account regional characteristics and differences, and Slow Food is positive about the measure concerning “long-term management plans to be established for every fishery through co-decision,” which, it is hoped, will be able to involve all the local actors. This would perhaps avoid the application of certain rules that could cause further damage to artisanal fishing or an increase in illegal activities.

For example, Barbara and Jan Rodenburg-Geertsema, fishers from the Slow Food Wadden Sea Traditional Fishers Presidium in the Netherlands, explain: “We don’t want special conditions, just fair laws that will allow us to carry on with our activities in a legal and profitable way. The way things are at the moment, we risk being cut out, because the legislation is designed for big industrial fishing businesses, and small-scale fishers like us cannot follow such regulations. In fact they are the ones who are enjoying favorable treatment, not us. Let’s take for example a European regulation from 2009, which obliges fishers to weigh their catch before any sale, storage or transport operation, and which the Dutch Fishing Ministry wants to apply to the letter. This would mean the disappearance of hundreds of small-scale artisanal fishers who still survive in the Netherlands, because there is no space on our boats and we don’t have the financial means to buy the regulation scales required.”

Regarding accidental catch and fish thrown back in the sea, Slow Food is disappointed that the reform does not insist on the need to improve fishing techniques to make them more selective and avoid the continuation of the phenomenon. Instead, they have decided to make it obligatory to land the entire catch and to ban the introduction of the surplus onto food markets for human consumption. On the one hand this biomass will be in any case removed from an already seriously damaged marine food chain, and on the other it will probably be used to make meal for animal feed (even if they are perfectly edible fish, even prized species, in cases in which the surplus is a result of exceeding allowed quotas), or sent to developing countries, all to the detriment of local markets.

Slow Food also deplores the fact that the reform encourages aquaculture on a large scale, presenting it as a possible solution to the impoverishment of marine resources. In reality, based on the current situation, this industry not only consumes more fish than it produces, but very often puts great stress on existing ecosystems.

When it comes to Marine Protected Areas, Slow Food hopes that the introduction of spaces that are co-managed with local fishers is preferred over a total ban on fishing, and that these marine areas are protected from every other form of exploitation, such as mining, tourism or military use.

Slow Food’s opinion remains that solutions must arise out of practice and dialogue between the different stakeholders (local, national and regional). This is why the organization is working on Presidia projects involving fishing communities in many different countries, with the aim of promoting the valuing of local resources and their responsible collective management.

* The Maximum Sustainable Yield is the maximum volume of biomass that can be extracted in the medium and long term from a fish stock in the given environmental conditions without harming its reproductive capacity.

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