EU Fisheries Ministers agree to a partial discards ban, and to quotas based on MSY but with no dates

Fisheries Ministers from across Europe have come to an agreement on 14th May on a sweeping reform of fisheries policies, but fell short of the most ambitious changes that green campaigners had demanded.

They agreed to ban the wasteful practice of discarding healthy fish at sea, but most of the ban will be phased in from 2015 instead of this year as had been proposed, and there are significant caveats for some species. Fish quotas will be based on scientific advice on what is the “maximum sustainable yield” for each stock, but there is no date on when stock levels must be restored, to the deep disappointment of greens for whom this was a central issue. Key aspects of the management of stocks will be devolved to member states instead of decided centrally in Brussels.

But details of the deal are still sketchy immediately following the meeting as the full results of the negotiations had not yet been officially released. The ministers’ meeting is also not the final stage of the process – their document will be discussed by the European parliament and commission before the end deal is reached, which could take months.

Maria Damanaki, the EU fisheries commissioner, said: “[This is] a good step forward. We need a fast deal and this can give the opportunity to the commission to focus on issues relating to the implementation. We need to solve the practicalities and at the same time we need to help our fishermen to adjust to the new situation, because this is a radical change for the way we fish. We have to give all possible support to our fisheries sector and our administrations. We have positive news this morning and I hope that in the coming weeks we can work we can work together with the parliament and the council to facilitate the procedure to come to a deal.”

Fleets would still be able to discard 5% of their catch under the council of ministers’ plans, because ministers argued that some inadvertent catch was unavoidable, and there are exemptions covering some species, such as sea bass, and mixed fisheries, where several species inhabit the same area. The 5% level was regarded by many as the best that could be done – some member states wanted a discard rate of 10%, which greens rejected as too high. Sweden was unhappy about the compromise, however, having pushed for a zero limit.

However, the compromise means that those member states which were trying to scupper the ban altogether have effectively been thwarted.

The European Parliament and Commission will now use the draft document from the council of ministers to come up with a further compromise position which will be thrashed out in the coming months.

“We are hoping to see something stronger than what was produced last night. We welcome it but it has not gone far enough. We think there can still be more ambition – that is possible in the next round of negotiations and a proper compromise can be achieved,” said Ian Campbell, senior associate of the Pew Trusts Environment Programme.

Under the text agreed, if it is passed by the parliament, a ban on discards of pelagicpelagic The ecological area consisting of the open sea away from the coast and the ocean bottom. The pelagic zone contains organisms such as surface seaweeds, many species of fish and sharks and some mammals, such as whales and dolphins. Pelagic animals may remain solely in the pelagic zone or may move among zones. fish such as mackerel and herring would come into force in 2015, and for other fisheries from 2016. Some had been hoping that a ban on mackerel and herring discards could be brought in at the end of this year.

There was also disappointment at the lack of a firm date for moving to a scientifically set maximum sustainable yield for fish quotas, which would be based on the need to restore stocks. A date of 2020 for a legally binding requirement to this effect had been proposed.

Richard Benyon, UK fisheries minister, said: “This package of reforms fulfils our promise to make discards a thing of the past and ensure sustainable fishing for future generations. The next step is for the European parliament to agree these reforms which are set to bring about real benefits for our fishermen and the marine environment for years to come. We have worked hard on these negotiations, and I hope that parliament supports our agreement and brings negotiations to a swift conclusion. The wait is nearly over.”

Saskia Richartz, fisheries policy adviser at Greenpeace, said that with a 5% discard rate allowed and with exemptions in some cases the restrictions on discards could not be regarded as an outright ban. “This has pushed the door open enough to a better agreement – it is not a failure, but it depends on finding common ground on the detail, and that remains a challenge for the coming weeks,” she said. “This is ultimately a decision for the parliament, to see how far they compromise or stick to their position.”

She said EU citizens should write to their MEPs as soon as possible on the issue to urge them to go for a strong deal to protect Europe’s dwindling fish stocks, emphasising a deadline for stock recovery. “The message of reform must be sent to the parliament. We are now in the end game and the next few weeks will be critical,” she said.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the chef who has spearheaded a campaign to ban discards, told the Guardian: “It’s been a long grind to get to this point, but the news this morning is broadly good. There will be a discards ban – and that is a vindication of the huge public support for our Fish Fight campaign to end this disgraceful waste of good fish. It’s a credit to our fisheries minister Richard Benyon that he and his allies managed to largely restrict attempts by the French and Spanish to water down the ban and create easy loopholes for their fishermen. There’s still scope to improve on the details of the ban in the final negotiations with MEPs, who are rightly pushing for even tougher measures against discards. We’d really like to see that happen. It’s also great news that the revised CFP will commit to ending overfishing and restoring fish stocks – but we still need to see hard dates to make that sticks, and that it applies across all fisheries. If we get that in the next few weeks then we should see the signing of a new CFP that can finally put European fishing on a sustainable track.”

The exhaustive process of fisheries reform – the biggest shake-up of fishing in the EU for four decades – has taken more than two years of close negotiations

Source: The Guardian, 15th May 2013


Marinet observes: We welcome the changes that have been advanced by Fisheries Ministers, the Commission and the European Parliament to the Common Fisheries Policy, but the reality is that they simply do not go far enough in order to address the problem.

The reality is simple. It is that fish stocks are so depleted that we have lost our food security, and that the EU now has to import fish from outside the EU for six months of the year so that we can feed ourselves. Hence we need policies that address this reality, and which will rebuild fish stocks in order to restore food security and resurrect a fishing industry which, like many fish stocks, is approaching commercial extinction.

There is no evidence in the above report of the Fisheries Ministers’ meeting that the restoration of food security is now an over-arching policy objective of the Common Fisheries Policy, nor that fish stocks are to be rebuilt within a clear time-frame to levels that will deliver food security, nor that closed areas (marine reserves) centred on spawning and nursery grounds and managed by fishermen will be employed in order to rebuild the fish stocks.

The new, reformed CFP will run for ten years before being addressed again by European politicians (i.e. not before 2022), so if these fundamental principles are not established and incorporated into the CFP now, then we are condemned to a CFP that will continue to allow the serious decline in our fishing stocks and industry to continue. If this is so, both will become effectively extinct. Be in no doubt, this would be a serious calamity, both economically and ecologically.

We have to place the Common Fisheries Policy on a new basis, governed by a new set of principles. These principles and their objectives must be conservation-based, not extraction-based, and must place fishermen at the heart of the administration and delivery of these new conservation-based principles. Moreover we must ensure that EU fishing subsidies, currently over 1 billion Euros a year, are reallocated and redirected to serve this new set of conservation-based principles and practices. Reform of EU fishing subsidies is now on the agenda of the European governmental institutions from June until December, and Marinet will be asking everyone – the public, fishermen, Ministers and politicians – to ensure that reform of EU fishing subsidies is given top priority.

At the moment, reform of the Common fisheries Policy is still on the road to failure. Make no mistake about this. Look at the facts for yourself – there’s no commitment to restoration of food security, no commitment to the the rebuilding of stocks so that food security becomes re-attainable, and no serious commitment to marine reserves with fishermen at the heart of the process.

So, stay engaged with and committed to the real campaign to secure CFP reform. And, tell EU politicians and Fisheries Ministers that they still have to deliver. If you do not, do not be surprised if there are no wild fish to buy for your meal in 2020. The future lies with you, act today.

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