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Overfishing in the Atlantic

Last Monday, November 4, the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee met and agreed upon draft legislation that would regulate the practice of deep-sea bottom trawling in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the European Commission had proposed a complete phase-out of bottom trawling, the committeelimited the ban to areas with vulnerable ecosystems, such as sponges and coral reefs.

Bottom trawling involves dragging heavy fishing nets with large metal plates and rubber wheels along the sea floor, destroying virtually all life forms in their way; moreover, due to the damage inflicted upon these deep-sea ecosystems they take decades to recover, if at all.

The European Parliament further suggested that the Commission assess the effects of deep-sea fishing equipment on these vulnerable ecosystems after four years to determine whether or not a complete ban on bottom trawling is necessary in order to promote sustainable fishing. Approved with 19 votes in favour, zero against and four abstentions, the draft will be voted on in December or January’s plenaries.

This week’s vote was yet another step towards reforming the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy, which was created to manage the fish stock for the entire bloc.

However, many attribute the depletion of Europe’s fish stocks to the policy’s liberal subsidies that enable the already swollen fishing fleet to be expanded.

Consequently, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation report revealed that Europe ranks number three in the world for highest fish catches, resulting in the overfishing of approximately 75 per cent of European fish stocks.

The unclear future of Europe’s fishing industry caused by overfishing has garnered much attention for the issue. In May, the EU decided to actively pursue legislation that would end overfishing in Europe and support sustainable practices that would promote the long-term wellbeing of the industry. The agreement bans the practice of discarding, which occurs when fishing fleets discard dead or dying fish back into the ocean.

A 2011 Commission report highlighted that fishermen are throwing between 25 to 70 percent of their catch back into the sea, resulting in approximately two million tons of undesirable fish returning to the North-East Atlantic. This practice further devastates the fish stocks, for the rejected fish are unaccounted for within the set quotas, enabling overfishing to occur on a colossal scale.

Furthermore, in order to address the issue of funding the overcapacity of the fishing fleet through subsidies under the common fisheries policy, Parliament rejected giving aid towards the building of new vessels during the plenary session on October 23.

Although the EU declared that new fleets could not be subsidised over 10 years ago, France and Spain, who are both largely involved in the fishing industry, were supporting a reinstatement of these subsidies. Not only were these proposals rejected by the Parliament, but they also created a limit on the amount of funds that member states can allocate towards their fleets.

The desire is that these measures will help reduce the negative effects of the EU’s massive fishing fleet.

A more sustainable policy would lead to large economic benefits in the long run

According to a report published by New Economics, a British think tank, the European Union needs to redirect the funds from the fleets towards data collection and the enforcement of existing laws in order to stimulate the replenishment of fish stocks. A more sustainable policy would lead to large economic benefits in the long run, for each euro spent on promoting such practices could yield a return 10 times greater than the original investment.

Moreover, a healthy fish stock would end the problem of smaller catches and lead to about €3.2 billion additional revenue, as well as create 100,000 jobs in the fishing industry.

The European Union is continually taking the necessary steps to aid in the recovery of the European fish stock while reforming the Common Fisheries Policy to create a more sustainable industry. Although some fear that negotiations with member states regarding these policies will weaken their effectiveness, the EU is working diligently to ensure that the future of the fishing industry is healthy and booming.

David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.

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