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EC Report: Overfishing Continues in 2008

EU - The European Commission today tabled its proposal on fishing possibilities and fishing effort for 2009 for the main stocks in the North-East Atlantic, including the North Sea.

This takes account of the latest scientific advice on the state of fish stocks from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), advice from the Commissions own Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF) and input from stakeholders. Most stocks of fish continue to be overfished in 2008.

This means that in order to build a healthy industry for the future, we need to fish less in the short term. The Commission's policy is to rebuild fish stocks through long-term plans for the main fish stocks. For other stocks, a gradual approach is applied, changing quotas by 15% or less each year. This provides some stability for the fishermen while maintaining movement towards more ecologically sustainable fisheries.

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Joe Borg commented: "We have made real progress in fisheries management over the last six years, and we are starting to see positive results - such as the recovery in certain stocks under long-term management plans. But this good news remains the exception, not the rule.

There has been so much overfishing over many years that the balance of the marine ecosystems on which our fisheries depend, is seriously disturbed. To nurture them back to their former productivity will often mean fishing less today so that fish stocks have a chance to recover. I know this will be hard on the fleets affected. But there is no other choice, if we want to restore the ecological basis for a truly viable European fishing industry."

The highlights of the Commission's proposal are:

For whitefish stocks:
In the area west of Scotland, the stocks of cod, haddock and whiting are overfished and catches have fallen steeply over the last ten years. The Commission is proposing to give a breathing space to these stocks so they can rebuild. This means stopping targeted fishing of these species and bringing in new kinds of fishing gear that let these fish escape while enabling fishermen to continue catching the prawns and anglerfish that are the most valuable parts of the fishery.

Levels of cod stocks are still very low in most areas, though there is an intake of young fish in the North Sea that must be protected so they can spawn.

The Commission has proposed improvements to its recovery plan and, following that new plan, is proposing 25% reductions in both quotas and fishing intensity on those stocks. Today's proposal also introduces a system of effort limitations for cod fisheries measured by kilowatt-day ceilings instead of the 'days-at-sea' system applied in 2008.

For herring:
A substantial reduction in herring quotas is needed in order to prevent the further decline of stock. For the West Scotland stock the Commission is therefore proposing a 25% reduction in quotas.

For North Sea sole:
The North Sea sole stock is managed under a long-term management plan, which this year points to a 7% increase in the quotas

For spurdog and porbeagle:
The recent scientific advice on these stocks of deep sea sharks confirms their extremely poor biological condition, so the Commission is proposing a zero TAC (Total Allowable Catch).

For blue ling:
Following the scientific advice and consultation with stakeholders, the Commission is now proposing measures to protect blue ling spawning aggregations through the introduction of two protection zones in the area west of Scotland.

For short-lived species:
In-year management systems will be applied again for short-lived species such as anchovy in the Bay of Biscay and sandeel, Norway pout and sprat in the North Sea. In the case of anchovy, the fishery will remain closed, subject to revision when data on spring abundance of the stock becomes available.

The proposal also includes measures transposing the EU's obligations in the context of Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, and in particular, measures to implement the scheme on port State measures to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the area of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean.

The Commission's proposal will be debated by the Council of Fisheries Ministers when they meet on 17-19 December so that they can apply from 1 January 2009.