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Cod: Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures

EU - On Monday MEPs will debate a recovery plan for cod stocks in the North Sea and West Scotland. With over 70% of the worlds fish species already fully exploited or depleted, fisheries faces a crisis. Ahead of the debate we spoke to French Liberal Philippe Morillon who chairs parliament's Fisheries Committee.

Tuna fishermen at work; Zahara de los Atunes, Southern Spain
Photo: European Parliament

According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation, 90 million tonnes of fish are caught annually for food. Another 60 million is taken in by-catch (fish and other creatures) caught in nets and through illegal fishing.

We put it to Mr Morillion that many people believe that the best way to promote a swift recovery of fish stocks is to ban all fisheries in endangered areas. He noted that Canada has a moratorium on fishing in Newfoundland to replenish cod stocks.

Morillon said that that balance is needed in EU fisheries policy: "We have to make a compromise between being a friend of the fish and a friend of the fishermen. We must ensure some social activity for our coastal fisheries, yet preserve the resources for the future sufficiency of the continent."

"We have to preserve the ability of the continent to feed itself in the future…we have to feed our children and grandchildren," he added.

General urges fishermen to plan ahead

The former General in the French army believes the key to a better future for fish is for "fishermen to understand that it is in their own interests to preserve the resource...Simply harvesting what nature has produced is very quickly coming to an end. They have to start being like cowboys and preserve the resources and not just catch them."

He went on to say that "fishermen should start to think about techniques to stimulate the development of fish stocks, e.g. with artificial reefs where algae, corals and oysters can attach themselves."

What about fish farming?

More use of aquaculture (fish farming) is often seen as a way of protecting future fish stocks from the sea. But Mr Morillion is cautious: "This could be done in parallel with the preservation of fish stocks but many constraints exist. For example the fish being farmed have to be fed with fishmeal". It takes 10 kilos of fish to produce 1kg of farmed tuna. He also raised concern about the pollution fish farms can cause to the sea. "Fishermen are not farmers - they are predators," he added.

Consumers must "pay more for better fish"

Mr Morillon said cod and tuna are the most endangered fish in Europe. "In Japan, there is organised crime with tuna. For a big tuna you can pay 8 even 10 thousand euros."

He said that consumers should be more active in combating illegal fishing. They should "demand evidence from the retailer: Fish should not come from illegal fishing; they should be harvested in a sustainable way; they should not be too small," he said.

"Labels are already being developed to inform the customer fully about what they are buying and where it has come from. As a consumer, you must pay more for better fish."

Soldier turned MEP

General Philippe Morillon, born in Casablanca in 1935, has been an MEP since 1999, sitting in the ALDE political group. Prior to entering European politics, he had a distinguished military career and is best known as the Commander of UN forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1992-1993.