Is European Fishing Getting Into Deep Water?

On July 10 the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee voted in favour of reintroducing subsidies for the construction of new fishing vessels and fleet modernisation. These subsidies would maintain the oversized European fleet and contribute to overfishing. The Committee vote was on the future European Maritime & Fisheries Fund, EMFF, the third part of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy package (Source: Ocean2012).

The vote reaffirmed that the interests of the boat and ship-building lobby are being prioritized over sustainability objectives, and the future of Europe’s seas and fishing is being jeopardized once again.

In what direction is the Common Fisheries Policy heading? Looking at the individual measures voted on July 10 by the European Parliament’s fisheries committee, there are unquestionably more disappointments compared to the few meagre satisfactions.

While it is positive that the importance of “sustainability” is being highlighted, one still has the impression that it is just an empty, high-sounding word rather than a real objective to be stubbornly pursued. There are too many outstanding points in the text of the reform, too many superficialities, for us to say that we are satisfied. We can start with the fact that an order of priority, giving absolute precedence to environmental sustainability, has not been established. A definitive position has not yet been taken on this aspect, as though the policy-makers have no understanding that “environmental attention is prerequisite to the economic and social benefits deriving from fishing activities,” in the words of Silvio Greco, Slow Food’s director of environmental issues.

And what about the funds allocated to increase controls on bycatch? In a context like Europe, with 83,014 fishing vessels (as of September 2011), it seems at the very least naive to think that the practice of throwing dead fish back in the sea can be limited by monitoring. According to Slow Food, the solution lies elsewhere, in improving the selectivity of fishing equipment, one of the few measures that could truly reduce fishing’s negative impact on the environment.

However, it seems that all the funds are being directed elsewhere. Not towards support for research, which if it was strengthened could provide a more precise picture of the state of our seas. And not towards concrete environmental protection measures. The favourite targets for subsidies seem to be increasing the capacity of the European fleet and sustainable aquaculture. “But what sustainability can there be, if you’re talking about farming carnivorous fish, fed with bone meal and with too high a feed conversion ratio?” asks Piero Sardo, president of the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity. “It’s one thing to encourage the farming of mussels or herbivorous fish, but for salmon, sea bream and bass, that kind of reasoning is not possible.”

Neither does the text of the reform take into enough consideration the distinctive characteristics of individual fishing zones. The objective of regionalization is still a macro-level, but it would be better if there was a further level of definition for territories/fishing districts/communities, which would guarantee greater protection and involvement for the artisanal fishing sector.

Our last hope is that the plenary vote, planned for the autumn, will reverse the situation. At the moment, however, the outlook for environmental sustainability is poor.

Translation Carla Ranicki

For more information about the CFP:

To find out Slow Food’s opinion on individual measures, download the attached document.

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