The annual fight over the right to fish for an ever-decreasing number of Atlantic species in European Union waters opened Tuesday with member governments seeking to give both the industry and the fish a chance at a sustainable future.
BRUSSELS, Belgium The annual fight over the right to fish for an ever-decreasing number of Atlantic species in European Union waters opened Tuesday with member governments seeking to give both the industry and the fish a chance at a sustainable future.
Fisheries ministers from the member nations assessed proposals from the European Commission, which already had diluted scientific advice for closing fishing grounds and imposing drastic catch cuts because of economic problems facing the bloc's 200,000 fishermen.
The meeting is expected to last for at least two days, and bartering set to last well into Wednesday night.
"If there are no fish left in the sea, there is not going to be any jobs or income for fishermen in the future," said British Fisheries Minister Ben Bradshaw. "So sometimes we have to take difficult decisions in the short term for the fishermen," he said.
The commercial survival of cod stands out again, especially since scientists proposed to cut fishing by a quarter in many waters and even ban it in the southern Celtic Sea off Ireland. Despite intense efforts to restore stocks to healthy numbers over the past years, the amount of cod keeps dwindling in once-populous waters.
"We have very tough problems with cod," said EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg before the meeting, calling for more stringent measures. "We are not happy with the results so far."
Even though there has been a cod recovery plan in place for three years, Borg said it was insufficient and he promised a drastic review for next year.
Sole and plaice are also fished at unsustainable levels and face cuts. Borg also proposed a ban on anchovy fishing for the first half of next year, affecting the Spanish and Portuguese fleets.
Herring fishermen will face catch cuts of up to 35 percent, underlining the continued decline, a process that started almost half a century ago with the development of a powerful fishing fleet.
Because fish often mix freely in the waters off France, Britain, Ireland and Spain, limits on one stock like cod, often result in cuts in other species too, driving fishermen to despair.
"The Commission goes with the same logic it had for the last 15 years, always cut down, always cut down, it's the only means it can conceive," said Pierre-Georges Dachicourt, President of French National Fisheries Committee.
European fishing has already been cut in half since the heyday some 40 years ago. And Dachicourt saw nothing but a further decline ahead following a frank discussion with Borg.
"He was very clear: it is another 30 percent less over the next 10 years," he said. Instead of blaming fishermen, authorities should look just as much to warmer waters because of climate change and coastal pollution as causes for depletion.
Environmentalists, however, insist on controlling the fishing effort and heavily criticized the executive European Commission proposals, which were less drastic than scientific advice.
The WWF environmental group demonstrated outside the meeting hall, with bogus chefs serving what a dinner might be if fish stocks collapse. Activists distributed leaflets and showed restaurant menus for the year 2050 which listed the only fish meals as jellyfish and tofu cod.
"We want sustainable fish not just for the fisheries, but also for everyone to eat," said Carol Phua, spokeswoman of the WWF.
Borg has also backed a limited resumption of using electronic fishing methods, something environmentalists vehemently oppose.
Sending electronic shocks through the water brings some flatfish off the sea bottom ready to be scooped up by nets. The shocks are so strong they break the back of some species, such as cod.
Last month, EU nations agreed to watered down cuts in deep-sea fishing catches, ignoring international advice to close down deep-sea fishing because some species face extinction.
The ministers tightened rules on fish net sizes and coastal trawling in the Mediterranean. Catch cuts for the Baltics had been set in October.
Source: Associated Press