What’s Happening to Our Fish?
EU member states continuously ignore scientific advice, granting quotas to industrial fishing fleets far above the recommended levels. And despite a ban on discards, fishing vessels are still throwing fish back into the sea, dead or dying. The fishing industry is locked in an absurd race to catch as much fish as possible, for maximum profit. This is short term thinking, and if it continues, will mean the further demise of both Europe’s fish stocks – and the fishing industry.
Europe’s seas and citizens are getting a bad deal. The continued depletion of European fish stocks is a tragedy for marine ecosystems, and will lead to the demise not just of fish populations, but of sections of the fishing industry throughout EU member states. To ensure sustainable sources of fish for the future, European citizens must hold the industry and governments to account.
Europe’s fishers depend on healthy oceans for their livelihoods, just as European citizens rely on their governments to enforce the regulations necessary for ensuring we have fish for the future.
In 2005, 90% of European fisheries in the North East Atlantic were regarded as unsustainable. Overfishing had gone too far and the cost of this unsustainable industry was being felt by European governments, industry and the environment. In 2014, a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), which provides the regulations for good marine governance, was passed into law in the European Union, aimed at ending long-term overfishing in European waters.
If observed, the CFP can secure the future of Europe’s fish stocks. Yet, three years later EU member states have not delivered on their commitment to end overfishing, even though it will deliver clear environmental, social and economic benefits. In many cases, member states are failing to implement the laws they have committed to under the reformed Common Fisheries Policy. And every year, countries awards themselves unsustainable fishing quotas, despite the best scientific advice.
Yet since the reformed CFP came into force in 2014, fishing catch limits continue to be set at unsustainable levels during annual Council meetings. Fisheries Ministers go into closed-door negotiations, often emerging late into the night hailing their own success in netting more fish for their country than the seas can continue to produce.
In addition, the bulk of quotas are still being distributed to big industrial fishing fleets that employ fewer people, while small-scale fishers are left to scrabble for the leftovers.
Some forms of fishing are highly wasteful, resulting in the waste of tens of millions of fish in European waters every year. Key nursery and feeding areas are damaged or destroyed; large numbers of juvenile fish are killed before they’ve had time to breed; and sharks and low-value or unwanted fish are thrown back dead or dying.
The discard ban (Landing Obligation) was introduced in 2014 to stop this unnecessary waste of fish and drive an increase in selectivity of fishing activity. The CFP requires almost all catches (for fish with catch limits or those in the Mediterranean with minimum reference sizes), to be fully documented and counted against catch limits, so that management measures are accurate and enforcement effective. In the short term, to help fishers transition to this new law, annual catch limits are being set higher to account for these increased landings, and the ban is being phased in between 2015-2019.
However, reports suggest discarding is continuing, selectivity is not being significantly improved, and some fishing operators are exploiting these new provisions by both continuing to throw back fish, and then catching more fish to make up for their perceived “shortfall”. By catching more fish and throwing away more fish, overfishing could be worsened.
Short Term Thinking
Why is this happening? Because EU member states are allowing some sectors of the fishing industry to run riot, allowing destructive fishing methods that maximise on short-term profits and benefit only a few, to the detriment of long term sustainability. By continuing to overfish, the industry is ultimately destroying itself, and the seas on which it – and we depend.
This must not continue. EU governments must enforce the rules, to secure a sustainable future for our fish, for European food security, and for the livelihood of our fishers.