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SOS for EU fishing – save our stocks - 23/04/2009

Commission calls for help with reforming EU fishing.

The year is 2020 and the fishing industry is thriving. Rampant overfishing is a thing of the past. Nearly all European fish stocks have been restored, and along coasts, young people once again consider fishing an attractive way to make a living.

So begins an EU report on Europe’s fishing future. But as the paper quickly makes clear, this vision is far from the reality. And to make it come true, the EU will need a sea change in policy.

The report is the first step towards what is hoped will be a radically different approach. In the months ahead, the commission will be soliciting advice from all those who care about the industry to forge a new plan.

“We are not looking for just another reform,” maritime commissioner Joe Borg says. “We are asking questions even on the fundamentals of the current policy and should leave no stone unturned.”

Normally the current policy - last overhauled in 2002 - would not be up for review until 2012. But the situation has become too precarious to wait that long.

Already 88% of European fish stocks are overfished, compared with only 25% worldwide. Almost one in three fish can’t reproduce normally because the parent population is too depleted. In the North Sea, for example, 90% of cod are caught before they can spawn.

This helps explain why Europe - the world’s largest fishing power after China – now imports two-thirds of its fish.

The main problem is there are still too many fishing vessels chasing too few fish. The European fleet - some 88 000 vessels of various sizes and capacity – has downsized in recent years, but the reductions are having little effect because advances in technology are making boats more efficient. Deeper cuts are needed to restore stocks and ensure economic viability.

The report also highlights the high subsidies governments pay to the industry, which have resulted in further overfishing.

The EU sets quotas on catches but these have failed to replenish the seas and are unpopular. French fishermen recently blockaded several English Channel ports in protest over quotas for sole and cod.

The industry remains an important source of employment but most jobs are in processing, packing and other non-fishing activities. Only about 190 000 people are now directly employed in catching fish.

More on EU fisheries policy

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