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Parliament's Big Debate: The Future Of The Fishing Industry


EU - Europe's fisheries are in crisis with "overfishing, fleet overcapacity and heavy subsidies" being the norm, according to the European Commission.

This morning (25 February) MEPs will debate a green paper on reform. The ultimate aim is to somehow balance science and overcapacity and increase incomes. At present 88 per cent of all community stocks are overfished and incomes are falling almost as fast as the fish stocks. Reform will be difficult given the economic and emotive power of fisheries.

France, Spain, Denmark, Italy and the UK are the big EU fishing countries in terms of production, catch and landings. In the debate on Thursday expect MEPs from there to be amongst the most vocal.

In terms of who eats the fish that is landed, the Portuguese are the largest consumers followed by the Spaniards. The Romanians languish last in the list of Europe's fish eaters.

Overfishing and overcapacity

Fish are being pursued beyond acceptable limits as 30 per cent of stocks are outside safe biological limits in that they cannot replenish themselves as fast as they are fished. One of the key issues MEPs will be debating is how fishing can be made ecologically sustainable?

Fishing practices vary enormously across the EU with small scale local vessels and large scale industrial vessels making up the EU's fleet of 82,500 boats. This is down 18,000 since 1995 and reductions continue by about two per cent every year.

However, this is still not enough to deal with overcapacity as vessels get two to four per cent more efficient every year. Globally the Chinese have the largest fleet. One of the questions the Green Paper is asking is should the EU fleet be limited through legislation and should EU states or the European Commission decide on the size of the fleet?

Fishermen, a dying breed?

One of the problems the industry faces is in finding enough young people who want to enter the trade, be it on boats or in processing or aquaculture. This is due mainly due to the fact that fishing incomes are falling and have been for years.

As fishermen age and young people turn away, the industry is increasingly forced to turn to labour from outside Europe, which can often cause social tensions.

One of the questions the Green Paper asks is how can a future fisheries policy sustain jobs?

A more localised policy?

How the new Common Fisheries Policy will shape up is one of the key questions facing the EU. The Commission intends fisheries governance to evolve from today’s centralised control by the Council of Fisheries Ministers, which adopts all decisions, towards regionalised but not nationalised implementation of the Community principles. It is still intended that fisheries ministers will determine annual catches.

In the draft report MEPs on the Fisheries Committee call for European institutions to set the overarching targets, which Member States will meet according to their own strategies.

The report firmly "rejects any attempt to adopt a single Community fisheries management model" and "urges clearly defined, liberal, de-bureaucratised and simplified model for managing small-scale, coastal fisheries".

Like agriculture and trade, fisheries is one of the EU's "common policies" where member states leave the running of the policy to the European Commission. Fishing quotas or Total Allowable Catches (TACS) are decided every December in marathon meetings by fisheries ministers.