SCOTTISH fishermen’s leaders today gave a cautious welcome to a sweeping package of reforms of the European Common Fisheries policy which will herald the beginning of the end for the controversial practice of dumping marketable fish back dead into the sea.
• Quotas to be replaced with ‘maximum sustainable yield’
• Changes to discard rules and conservation policy also part of reforms
Discards, which could be outlawed within three years,are estimated to currentlyaccountfor almost a quarter of allthe catches within the European Union fishing fleets.
The biggest shake up in the history of the CFP was approved by 502 votes to 137 at meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg. And the European Parliament will now start negotiations on the radical reforms with the Council of Ministers and the Commission before they are finally approved.
The reforms also include plans toprotect endangered stocks, establishing a more regional management system, giving local fishermen and politicians and scientists a major say on regional fisheries, and a move towards long-term planning to ensure fisheries remain sustainable.
Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, welcomed the bulk of the reforms package. But he warned that concerns remained amongst skippers about how the proposed discard ban would work in practice.
Said Mr Armstrong: “The current CFP is widely acknowledged as being badly over centralised and failing to deliver effective fisheries management. We therefore welcome today’s vote in the European Parliament, which is another step on the way to a new and reformed CFP.
“In particular, we welcome the support for the decentralisation of fisheries management. Rather than a centralised ‘one size fits all’ policy, we now have a real opportunity to control our fisheries much more effectively on a regional basis where fishermen, government, scientists and other relevant stakeholders can develop effect management regimes. However, there is still no real indication yet of the scale of regional control that will be offered and this is still up for negotiation”
Referring to the plans to outlaw discards, Mr Armstrong continued: “No-one hates discarding more than our fishermen but there is concern about how a discards ban would work in practice, given the complex mixed fisheries that our fishing fleet works in.
“There is still, therefore, much to discuss on the operational details of how such a plan would actually work. Scottish fishermen are already pioneering a number of innovative measures in their fishing gear that have dramatically reduced discards and we believe the further adoption and refinement of measures such as these may prove a more effective way forward.”
The proposed reforms, however, were widely welcomed by conservation groups.
Helen McLachlan, the fisheries programme manager at WWF-UK, said: “This is a ground-breaking result for the future of fisheries across Europe and beyond.This vote reflects the views of the hundreds of thousands of members of the public, industry and fishermen themselves who campaigned to ensure the long term stability of fish stocks.
“It is now up to Fisheries Ministers to show the same determination and commitment to deliver the healthy fisheries and marine environment that Europe needs and deserves.This includes better management, an end to discards and a return to healthy stock levels while minimising the impact on the marine environment.In doing so we will see not just the recovery of fish stocks but Europe’s fisheries economy.”
Kara Brydson, the senior marine policy officer at RSPB Scotland, declared: “This historic vote is the beginning of the end for overfishing and the wasteful and morally indefensible practice of discards.
“Responsible Scottish fishermen can only stand to benefit from the enlightened role the European Parliament has played. With this in mind, we believe there is a bright and sustainable future for the Scottish fishing industry for years to come.”
Ian Campbell a spokesman for OCEAN2012, an alliance of organisations dedicated to stopping overfishing and ending discards, said it had been a historic vote for the European Parliament.
And he continued: “This is a good day for the environment. An overwhelming majority of the members of the European Parliament have voted to end overfishing, and to rebuild fish stocks. We now expect EU fisheries ministers to show flexibility in their position, for the sake of our fish stocks and fisheries dependent communities.”
The reforms were also welcomed by politicians across the political spectrum.
Richard Lochhead, the Scottish Fisheries Secretary, said the reform of the CFP was long overdue. And he continued: “I am pleased that MEPs have voted through these proposals which will finally see an end to the wasteful practice of discarding.
“This vote is a key milestone and provides a sound basis for discussions with the Ministers in the coming weeks. I am looking forward to continuing to fight Scotland’s corner at the fishing council in Europe later this month, especially in terms of ending micromanagement by Brussels of our seas.”
He added: “I am determined that we must not squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the reform that our fishing communities need if we are to ensure that both our marine environment and fishing industry can survive and thrive.”
Struan Stevenson, the Scottish Euro MP and Senior Vice President of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee, said: “The vote today in Strasbourg was a seminal and long-overdue landmark on the road to reform of the CFP.”
He continued: “These reforms will wrestle control away from the micro-managers in Brussels who have made such an absolute mess of fisheries policy for the past 30 years. We will also see an urgent timetable set for an absolute ban on the scandal of dumping and discards. The Spanish lobbied hard for an amendment which would have kicked the discards measures far into the long grass.
“In the end, a significant coalition of support across the political groups from left to right won the day, although, in the famous words of Winston Churchill, ‘This is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning’.”
Ulrike Rodust, the Germanfisheries reform rapporteur who tabled the package said: “We have shown today that the European Parliament is anything but toothless. We have used our power as a co-legislator, for the first time in fisheries policy, to put a stop to overfishing. Fish stocks should recover by 2020, enabling us to take 15 million tonnes more fish, and create 37,000 new jobs.”
And Maria Damanaki, the European Fisheries Commissioner said: “I welcome the vote and I am especially pleased with the Parliament’s support for a policy that is based on exploiting fisheries resources sustainably, a policy that introduces a discard ban with clear dates to put an end to wasteful practices that we can no longer afford.
“ I would like to congratulate the Parliament on this success and I am looking forward to the work that the Council and the Parliament will soon start to ensure the adoption of the reform of the CFP.”