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Mackerel and cod on the European agenda!

The European Unions’ Common Fisheries Policy from 2002 is currently undergoing a reform to ensure sustainable fisheries in the EU in the future

By Rose Raes

Scientists estimate that in 2048 there will be no more fish for human consumption in the European seas – That is, if the current quotas and regulations are not changed to more sustainable alternatives. Currently 88% of the European fish stocks are currently overexploited. Also in Danish waters fish stocks are suffering under overfishing.

The reasons for the missing sustainability of European fisheries are many; too high fishing quotas, too large fleets of fishing vessels and conflicting interests between sustainability and economy being the main issues.

The Swedish member of the European Parliament, Isabella Lövin, went into politics after writing the book “Silent Sea” about the challenges of the fisheries area. She is a member of the Green Party, and has been a member of the European Parliament since 2009, where she is a member of the Fisheries Committee.

“ Experts and everyone else agree that the current Common Fisheries Policy are not sustainable,” Isabella Lövin says,  “therefore a reform is necessary in order to secure the survival of the fish stocks.”

Denmark is located in an area, where also countries like Norway, Iceland, the Faroe Islands and Russia from outside the EU are fishing. This gives some different challenges in the cooperation on fisheries policy than in areas where only EU-countries have fishing vessels.

Norway has been pressuring EU for more sustainable fisheries policies, but Iceland has taken a different stand to the question of Fisheries Policy – They want to be able to fish more, than the EU will allow.

Mackerel wars

The mackerel stocks have been under a lot of pressure, but thanks to a great effort from, amongst others, the Danish fishing industry, the mackerel stocks are now back to a sustainable level. However, global warming have caused the ocean streams to change, so now the mackerels spend 6 months of the year in Icelandic waters, something they have never done before. Because the mackerel spend half the year in Icelandic waters, Iceland claims that they are entitled to half the total mackerel quotas. This means that Iceland instead of sticking to the EU quota of 2.000 tonnes, Iceland fished 130.000 tonnes of mackerel.

“It’s a big problem,” Isabella Lövin Admits, “and nobody seems to be able to find a solution to it. The EU are starting to raise their voice a little towards Iceland.”

Already in September 2010, Maria Damanaki, the Fisheries Commissioner of the European Union, critisised both the Iclandic but also the Faroe Isle‘s mackerel fisheries policy. At a press conference in Brussels on September 26th, she suggested that the Islandic fisheries policy might be a problem, as Iceland wishes to join the EU. This speech was answered by a press release from the Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Argricuture saying that:

„The EU, the Faroe Islands and Norway carry no less responsibility than Iceland for keeping the fishery within a sustainable limit. It should be emphasized that it is the joint obligation of the four coastal States to establish a comprehensive management of the mackerel fisheries in order to ensure their sustainability, and Iceland´s right to fish in this context is no less than the right of the others.“

The Icelandic Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture have set the mackerel quota for 2011 to 146.818 tonnes.

Also, the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture criticised the agreement of quotas for mackerel fisheries between EU, and Norway in a press release from November 2010:

„Obviously, these parties have disregarded the legitimate interests of the other coastal States, Iceland and the Faroe Islands, and of Russia. The quota decision of the EU and Norway is in fact a decision that the total mackerel fishery next year will exceed the recommended total allowable catch and these parties bear full responsibility for that.“

This statement followed an agreement that EU and Norway total mackerel quotas for 2011 amount to 583,882 tonnes, or more than 90% of the recommended total allowable catch.

The EU, Iceland and Faroe Islands had a three-day meeting last week, but still haven‘t reached an agreement on the mackerel issue.

The new discard ban

The cod are the species in the North Sea that are most vulnerable at the moment. The quotas are simply too high to be sustainable, and app. 93% of the cod are fished before reaching sexual maturity.

Fishers are only allowed to land a certain amount of cod, and only specimens over 39 cm. Therefore it is an economical advantage for the fishers to throw all smaller fish back into the ocean, even though they cannot survive after being caught. This procedure means that small cod that haven’t yet reached maturity are killed, thus destroying future generations of cod, and is one of the reasons the cod stocks in the North Sea are under pressure. In the North Sea the annual discards are estimated at 500.000 to 800.000 tonnes.

On March 1st, Denmark, England, Germany and Norway signed a joint declaration of banning discard. Norway has had such a ban for years, so Danish vessels fishing in the Norwegian seas have been sailing into Danish waters to dump fish from Norwegian waters instead.

“Norway has wanted EU to become more responsible on the matter of discard for years,” Isabella Lövin explains.

This joint declaration means that discard now will be forbidden in the waters of all nations in the agreement. In Denmark, there is an ongoing project where cameras are installed on the fishing vessels, to make sure that the discard ban is being respected. This is still only a trial, but could be a part of the solution to the discard issue.

Also in the EU Parliament a complete ban of discard of fish are currently being discussed.

What will the future bring?

“The quotas should be calculated from the amount of fish that are actually fished, not just the amount that is landed.” Isabella Lövin states.

This way, discard is no longer an advantage for the fishers.  Also, scientific results and advice should be taken more serious, and science and sustainability should always be taken into consideration before anything else. For example the Iceland situation, where Iceland wants to fish more, than what is sustainable, because of the bad Icelandic economy.

“Scientists need to raise their voices” says Isabella Lövin says, “and politicians needs to listen more to scientists than to other interests.”

The Danish Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Fisheries is positive towards the Common Fisheries Policy reform. In a rapport on the matter from the beginning of the reform in 2008, the ministry underlines that from a Danish perspective, the most important issues are dealing with the discard problem and making the legislation on the area more simple and understandable.

The Common Fisheries Reform will be implemented in 2012.

The European Parliament are currently working on a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy to be implemented in 2012