‘Failed’ fisheries policy driving fish stocks to collapse

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By a Newsnet reporter

Speaking during a fisheries debate in the House of Commons yesterday SNP Westminster Fisheries spokesperson Eilidh Whiteford urged the UK Government to learn from the abject failure of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) and prioritise an approach that puts regional management at its heart.  Dr Whiteford also highlighted the success of the Scottish Government’s catch quote scheme which could help deliver a discard-free fishery.

The debate comes as researchers warn that stocks of North Atlantic cod and herring are likely to collapse within 40 years if European fisheries ministers continue to ignore scientific recommendations on how much fish should be caught each year.

The study, carried out by the University of York and published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, examined the extent to which agreements negotiated among European ministers are based on scientific recommendations on how much fish should be caught in order to sustain stocks.  These are known as total allowable catches (TACs).  The study is the most comprehensive analysis of European fisheries ever carried out.

The researchers discovered that TACs were set higher than recommended in over two-thirds of cases.  On average, officials adjusted TACs to be 33 per cent higher than those  recommended by fisheries experts, leading to over-fishing and depletion of stocks.

Lead researcher Bethany O’Leary said: “Productive and sustainable fisheries will not be achieved if fisheries ministers’ cavalier disregard for scientific advice continues.  Such behaviour virtually guarantees the collapse of fish stocks according to our model.”

Ms O’Leary noted that the decision making process in the CFP “has led to the paradox of ministers protecting their national interests, while at the same time trying to allocate quotas among member states for mutual benefit and to achieve conservation goals.  Ministers end up arguing about fishermen, not fish.”

Co-author Professor Callum Roberts added: “Failure to follow scientific advice is a major weakness, and possibly a fatal flaw, of the CFP.”

According to one estimate, in 2003 the EU spent €1 billion to promote resource conservation in fisheries through scientific research, stock assessments and in ensuring compliance with regulations and quota allocations.  Professor Roberts noted: “If the science is sidelined, you’ve got to ask: is this just a waste of money?”

Ms O’Leary suggested that decision-making under the CFP should engage in a wider debate on the proper role of science in the management of renewable resources, saying: “Competitive bargaining doesn’t work.  It’s already led to quotas for Atlantic bluefin tuna being so over-inflated that they’re now delivering what many see as the institutionalised extinction of a species.”

Speaking during the House of Commons debate, Dr Whiteford, the MP for Banff and Buchan, said:

“This is a crucial time for Scottish fishing and the UK Government must learn from the abject failure of the CFP in its current form.  It has failed the fishing industry, it has failed as a conservation strategy, and it’s failed our coastal communities.

“The real challenges we face now have to be seen in the context of a Common Fisheries Policy that for over 30 years has been systematically damaging our marine ecosystems, eroding the livelihoods of fishermen, and is inconsistently applied across the European Union.

“The CFP must be replaced with a workable model of fisheries management, and there is a growing consensus in the industry, among fishing leaders, scientists, and environmental NGOs that a Regionalised approach offers a better way forward than the one-size-fits-nobody approach we have at the moment.

“We need to get clarity from the European Commission on how they intend to deliver a regionalised approach. Until we get effective involvement in fisheries management from key stakeholders, the people on whom the decisions impact, we will not be able to move forward in any way.  At this stage we are still some distance from a policy that is environmentally, economically and socially sustainable for our communities.

“Scotland has been at the forefront of pushing alternatives to the culture of discards imposed by Europe’s flawed fisheries policy that forces fishermen to dump good quality fish back overboard, dead into the sea. This is a waste of a valuable food and economic resource.  Nobody gains from discards.”

Speaking during the debate, Frank Doran, Labour MP for Aberdeen North, agreed that the  Common Fisheries Policy had failed to create a sustainable fisheries industry, with the deterioration of fish stocks and the fishing fleet.  The MP told the House that the policy was “broken in several places” and plagued “short term” decision-making in Brussels.

Mr Doran agreed that the issue of fish discards was high on the agenda.

He said: “It’s offensive to most of us, it’s wasteful, it affects the viability and sustainability of fish stocks and it distorts the science and scientific advice. It also deeply affects our fishermen who are forced to throw perfectly good fish back in the sea to rot.”

Dr Whiteford pointed out that the Scottish government has taken a lead on the fisheries issue and has campaigned for an extension of the catch quota system, saying:

“The Scottish Government has set a priority for the upcoming EU negotiations to extend the successful catch quota scheme.  I urge the UK Government to work with Scottish Ministers as well as international partners, including the Norwegians and the Commission, to drive that measure forward so that we can actually expand the catch quota system and make its success something that we can build on right across the European Union.”