“Governments must now deliver an end to overfishing”

To create jobs that can withstand the test of time, politicians need to repair our ecosystems. The 28 men and women who set fishing quotas have a responsibility to deliver an end to overfishing, writes Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace, ahead of the Council meeting 15–16 December.

sr330x255On 15 and 16 December, ministers will yet again meet in Brussels to set fishing opportunities for the coming year. The new fishing rules, in place since early 2014, require all EU countries to end overfishing starting in 2015 and to promote a shift towards low-impact fishing. Delivery of these goals is in the hands of 28 men and women whose responsibility is to preserve and restore fish stocks and to maximise the public benefit we gain from our seas and fisheries.

Yet, the vortex that is driving so many public goods into the hands of a small number of private profiteers has also affected access to fish and fishing grounds. Governments have effectively, and unfairly, privatised access to fishing opportunities by allowing a concentration of ownership and promoting an overinvestment in the industrialised fleet.

According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, there were around 3.2 million fishing vessels active at sea in 2010. Industrial fishing vessels ranging from between 24 metres to over 100 metres in length represent only around 2 percent of these boats, yet their owners catch as much fish as all the smaller vessels combined.

While the EU’s total reported catch shrank by just 13 percent between 2005 and 2011 − largely a result of overfishing − the number of jobs in the fishing industry dropped by 30 percent, as manpower was replaced by the greater engine and catching power of super trawlers.

Side-lined by politics and forced out of business by big industry players, small-scale fishermen have paid the highest price in the race to intensify fishing. Although their fishing activities often have a minimal impact on the marine environment, they have been granted little access to fishing opportunities.

Greenpeace recently published the names of 20 vessels, their owners and fishing activities to highlight some of the culprits in global overfishing. All 20 vessels fall under the responsibility of governments in the European Union. Industrial fishing vessels, like those on the Greenpeace list, use much heavier gear and more fuel yet generally employ far fewer people per tonne of fish caught than smaller-scale fishing operations in Europe, Africa or South America, which share the same fishing grounds. Moreover, some of the fish caught by European vessels in the waters of poorer nations are dumped cheaply on African markets, undermining local supply chains and marginalising local fishermen.

Whichever way you turn, our politicians are chanting the need for jobs, investments and economic growth. But to create jobs that can withstand the test of time, politicians need to repair our ecosystems so that these deliver fish, food and employment.

In fishing, the small-scale, low-impact practices contribute the greatest socio-economic benefits to local communities, not least in terms of subsistence fishing. The greatest economic asset in any fishery is the access to fishing opportunities, so governments should give small-scale, low-impact fishermen preferential access when they allocate fishing quotas in the new year, while cutting back their bloated industrial fleets. But above all, it is high time for governments to end overfishing and allow stocks to recover.

Saskia Richartz, EU fisheries policy director, Greenpeace

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