Yesterday marked a historic moment in the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). For the first time, the European Parliament was given a chance to have an equal say on the CFP with the European Council, and MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of far-reaching reforms aimed at saving our dwindling fish stocks.
Fish don’t stay within international borders, so it makes sense to have a common European policy to ensure fishing fleets across the continent aren’t catching more fish than our seas can support. However, so far the CFP has failed to make Europe’s fisheries sustainable and our seas are currently the most over-fished in the world. 80% of Mediterranean and 47% of Atlantic fish stocks are over-fished, with many popular species such as cod, sole, anchovy, sardine, turbot and salmon under threat.
Hopefully, this is about to change, as the reforms adopted by the European Parliament yesterday aim to ensure a return to sustainable fish stocks by 2020.
Labour MEPs have been following the reform since the European Commission published their proposals in 2011 and we have been voicing our concerns over key issues such as overfishing, ending discards, conservation measures, the proper distribution of fishing rights and the use of public money.
So what do the reforms voted on yesterday include?
Firstly we want to see an end to the hugely wasteful practice of discarding fish back into the ocean to keep within quota limits or because they are too small. Estimates suggest over a million tonnes of discarded fish have been dumped back into our seas but now fishing fleets will have to land and record all catches.
It is also vital that we end over-fishing and support sustainable fishing methods. Although the CFP covers the whole EU, fishing quotas are set through lengthy negotiations by national fisheries ministers, which has tended to mean that each government sets irresponsibly high quotas for their fishing fleets. The reform will oblige ministers to use the principle of Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY). The MSY approach is based on a long-term strategy whereby catch rates are fixed, enabling fish stocks to reproduce so that fishing can occur in sustainable economic, environmental and social conditions.
Not only is this good news for fish, it’s also a boost for the whole marine environment and the people whose livelihoods depend on it. Jobs in the fishing industry have been in sharp decline, but allowing fish stocks to fully recover by 2020 is expected to lead to a 30% increase in jobs for fishermen by 2022.
And while in the past the CFP has been criticised for being too centrally managed, the reforms will allow for day to day management of fisheries to be done at a regional level, by people who know the local area.
We know consumers want the fish they buy to be sustainable and that’s why last year I supported plans for better labelling of fresh fish. Unfortunately that wasn’t passed by the European Parliament, but the reforms adopted yesterday include a broad set of measures aimed at creating a sustainable fishing system in Europe, including the need to promote small-scale fishing by local fishermen
Yesterday’s vote in the European Parliament is only the start for a new Common Fisheries Policy, we now need to get the support of 27 Member States in the European Council. However, it’s clear from the thousands of European citizens who have signed petitions, written to their MEPs and even sent us their own pictures of fish, that the people of Europe want us to seize this once in a lifetime chance to change the way we fish and preserve our oceans for future generations.