The European Commission has today announced its proposals for the future fisheries policy. It largely went unreported in the news on a day dominated with the latest actions of the Murdoch's, bombings in the Middle East and fighting in Libya. The Commission described it as a radical approach for fisheries management in Europe, capable of preserving the livelihood of fishermen whilst putting an end to overfishing and depletion of fish stocks.
Maria Damanaki the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries presented the proposals today saying that 'action is needed now to get all of our fish stocks back into a healthy state to preserve them for present and future generations'. One of the key points of today's proposals was that all fish stocks will have to be brought back to sustainable levels by 2015. Another was the resolution to phase out the practice of throwing unwanted fish back into the sea dead - discards, as highlighted recently by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Fishfight.
All really good news then, right?
Well yes, possibly?
In my opinion's there are two reasons to be concerned.
The first is this: This new package is being submitted to the European Parliament and Council for adoption under the ordinary legislative procedure, whatever that means. The Commission aims for adoption and entry into force by 1 January 2013. 2013? This seems in direct contradiction to what the Commissioner said earlier, ie that action is needed now. Things need to be happening now to preserve fish stocks for the future and yet we seem about to enter a period of negotiation, argument and lobbying. It will be extremely difficult to get this proposal through to adoption in it's current form given the weight of influence interested parties will be able to bring to bare and the conflicts of interest between member countries.
My second concern is this, will these proposals be enough, even if they manage to get implemented in their current form? I am no scientist but I am very interested in the state of our fish stocks. For years I have heard scary information from these scientists, even today the stats make scary reading: The Commission says that in the Mediterranean 82% of fish stocks are overfished, while in the Atlantic the figure is 63%. As far back as 1992 the ICES (International Council for the Exploration of the Seas) advised that the 'Recovery of the Cod stock would require, at minimum, a marked and sustained reduction of effort or even a closure of a fishery'. And yet now nearly 20 years of more overfishing and we are now able to recover these fisheries to a 'healthy state' by 2015, just two years from the planned adoption of these proposals. Two years of action which to me looks far short of 'a sustained reduction of effort'. As I said, I am no scientist, but that just doesn't make sense to me.
So for me I am encouraged to see some progress, but I remain sceptical. There is very much a need to keep up the pressure on our politicians to make sure these proposals go through as intended and that their effectiveness is reviewed frequently. So if you haven't signed up to Hugh's Fishfight the I urge you to do it now, I ask you to consider carefully what you order next time you pop into the chippy (why is cod still the cheapest fish available?) and the next time you meet your MP why not make sure they not exactly how important you feel this matter is.
Thanks for reading.