February 6, 2013 / 4:45 PM / 5 years ago

EU fishing policy on course for deep reform

* EU parliament overwhelmingly backs end to over-fishing

* Irish presidency aims for final deal by end June

* New policy would take effect from next year

By Barbara Lewis

BRUSSELS, Feb 6 (Reuters) - The European Parliament on Wednesday overwhelmingly backed reform to end decades of over-fishing and restore EU sea stocks to healthy levels by 2020.

The Common Fisheries Policy, which dates back to the 1970s, is widely regarded as a failure.

It has allowed subsidised, industrial-sized fleets to devastate fish stocks, while eurosceptics have scorned it as bureaucratic.

The revised policy, to take effect from next year, will enforce sustainable catch limits - meaning fishermen can catch no more than a given stock can reproduce in a year.

It will also end the practice of discards: throwing undersized fish or unwanted species back into the sea, where they usually die anyway.

While the broad outlines of the new policy are in place, some details still have to be negotiated.

It will then need final parliamentary approval as well as endorsement from the European Union’s 27 governments including Britain, which is debating looser ties with the bloc.

Eurosceptics there have called for more regional management of fish stocks and the right to control access of other European fishing vessels to British waters. The country’s fisheries minister said on Wednesday the reform still needed work.


EU Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said she was “especially pleased with the parliament’s support for a policy that is based on exploiting fisheries resources sustainably”.

Some 80 percent of Mediterranean and 47 percent of Atlantic stocks are overfished, European Commission figures showed.

German politician Ulrike Rodust, who led the debate in parliament, said the reform should mean fish stocks recover by 2020, allowing fishermen to harvest an extra 15 million tonnes and creating 37,000 new jobs.

Campaign groups hailed Wednesday’s vote as a breakthrough.

“It’s a very easy paradigm. Without fish, there is no fishing, no jobs - but everyone will have to overcome their greed. That’s the mind shift,” said Markus Knigge, adviser at Pew Environment Group.

“You have to look at fisheries not like a mine, but like a field. You have to cultivate it, not just take fish out.”

There was agreement for “more power at a lower level”, but EU-wide policy was still needed. “This is not just solved by everyone doing their own job,” he said.

Last year, the European Commission said France, Portugal and Spain were guilty of repeated overfishing, and reduced their catch quotas as a punishment.

Taking into consideration the wide discrepancies in different fishing fleets, the proposed law says decisions on catch limits must involve fishermen and region-wide cooperation.

It also shifts the focus to long-term planning, which could limit the notorious all-night haggling to agree annual fishing quotas.

British Fisheries Minister Richard Benyon welcomed Wednesday’s vote towards reforming “this failed policy”.

“This is a crucial step forward in securing radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, but there is still more work to be done,” he said in an emailed statement.

Ireland, as the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, has said it hopes to get a political deal on the proposed reform by the end of June. (Editing by Charlie Dunmore and John Stonestreet)

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