The sea and fishing play a key part in Europe’s cultural heritage, and for many local coastal communities, fishing continues to play an important economic and social role.
Europe’s fishing fleet consists of more than 83,000 vessels and employs approximately 150,000 fishermen. However, although fish stocks are renewable, they are also finite. Overfishing has caused serious problems in the past.
This is why, explains Karmenu Vella, European Commissioner for the Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, EU countries have acted to ensure the long-term sustainability of Europe’s fishing industry.
The Maltese Commissioner explains that; “The objective – through the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) - is to ensure high long-term fishing yields for all stocks by 2020 at the latest. This is the ‘maximum sustainable yield’. Fishing is moving towards sustainable levels in all areas of the Northeast Atlantic, North Sea and Baltic Sea since 2006.”
However, it is not universal; “The situation in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea is more difficult, with more than 90 per cent of stocks overfished.” His aim is to have a common strategy in place by 2017 that will reverse the situation in the Mediterranean. He says that the Commission will continue pursuing sustainability for all fish stocks, working with member states, industry and other stakeholders.
This, he believes, will underpin future profitability for the sector; “It makes economic and environmental sense to allow fishermen to increase catches while reducing the impact on the marine environment.”
Swedish Green deputy Linnéa Engström agrees; “The EU needs its fishing industry; that’s why the reform of the CFP was such a success and a welcome break with previous unsustainable fishing. The best way to ensure the industry’s survival and profitability is to make fishing sustainable, which requires abundant fish stocks”.
During the CFP reform, the European Parliament insisted on an objective of abundant fish stocks – above the levels for maximum sustainable yield. Unfortunately, not all realise the simple mathematics in letting fish stocks recover over time in order to produce a greater economic yield. In the newly-agreed Baltic Sea multiannual plan, the Council still insists on having the possibility of fishing at higher levels.
The Parliament succeeded in limiting the extent to which the Council can set excessive quotas, but this is not aligned with the CFP and must be corrected in future plans. Engström also highlights improvements the new CFP brought to landing obligations.
The new approach reduces discards, which had historically created a situation where large quantities of fish were thrown away. Member states can now, “encourage a local and social dimension by rewarding those fishermen that fish with the most sustainable and environmentally friendly gear, usually smaller boats with strong ties to the local community.”
She believes that implementing this correctly, “may prove important for local business, delivering an important social impact”. S&D MEP Renata Briano wants Europe’s small-scale fisheries to receive special attention. She points out that these, “represent almost 80 per cent of all the fishing vessels in the world, guaranteeing work and sustenance to millions of families”.
Small-scale fisheries receive little in the way of public subsidies or fishing quotas distributed by governments.
For Briano, sustainable fisheries mean those methods and fishing techniques that do not endanger the seabed or marine habitats. The Italian deputy feels that these approaches, “respect the biological rhythms of the sea by catching only what the sea offers, without waste and with the lowest possible environmental impact.”
She continues; “I dealt with this important issue in the multi-annual plan for the reconstitution of Bluefin tuna. The EU dealt with the biological aspect over the reconstitution of the species as well as the social and economic aspects of fishing for Bluefin.”
The Bluefin fishery is subject to quotas established by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and discretionally distributed by member states. “Despite a 20 per cent increase in quotas in 2014, many small-scale fishermen had to discard their fishing equipment because they didn’t have access to these quotas. I think we expected a fairer distribution in favour of the artisanal fishermen.”
The Parliament, she says, “strongly believes that member states have to revise the distribution system of fishing quotas with more equitable criteria, without further penalising small fishermen.” She wants to see an end to a practice that favours only a few large-scale fisheries.
The value and impact of fishing on coastal regions is what concerns the EPP’s Alain Cadec. “Fishing plays a vital role in the dynamism of these. We must preserve a sustainable fishing model for generations to come.”
At the same time, he recognises the importance of sustainable, long-term fish stocks; “No fish means no fishermen.” The French deputy supports the new CFP focus on sustainable fishing, particularly the specific needs of artisanal fishing. This, he says, “is an example of sustainability we must enhance” and one that creates many jobs in coastal communities.
Cadec believes future management plans will increase visibility for fishermen's’ needs. He emphasises that they should be part of the CFP, particularly when revising technical measures, pointing out that the EU is set to invest over €6.5bn over the period 2014-2020 to support sustainable fishing through the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF).