TCS Daily

A Fishy Business

By Jens Kyed - June 17, 2002 12:00 AM

BRUSSELS -- The distance from words to deeds can indeed be very far. This was again proven when the ministers responsible for fisheries from the 15 member countries of the European Union met in Luxemburg last Tuesday. They gathered to discuss the many challenges the industry is facing but actually managed to agree on very little in substance. According to the minutes from the meeting, as always when fully fledged compromises are not reachable in the EU, the tough decisions are pushed forward to a future meeting. So also this time.

The Spanish presidency of the EU writes in the minutes that "there is a general agreement on the need for reform of the common fisheries policy among the member states," but there appears to be a long way to go from there to actually agreeing on the painful reforms necessary.

At the Luxemburg meeting, the main topic of concern was not supposed to be the reform of the common fisheries policy. Although the commissioner in charge of the reform proposal - Mr. Franz Fischler was participating at the meeting and informed the ministers about the views of the Commission on the proposed reform, no decision was planned on this painful issue this time. However, there were other important issues on the agenda regarding the fisheries of this year.

The ministers discussed the pressing issue of limiting and restricting the 2002 catches of fish living in deep waters. This is a highly important issue, since many of the deep water species are heavily overtaxed and reproduce much more slowly than the fish living in more shallow waters. However, an agreement could not be reached. As a compromise, the ministers agreed on some suggestions to be decided on at a later session. They suggested a 30 percent reduction in the fishing effort in stead of the 50 percent proposed by the Commission, and they proposed to regulate the quotas not only for this year but the following two years too - thus in effect undermining the Commission proposal for a new common fisheries policy. In the proposal to a new common fisheries policy it is suggested that there shall be an end to the ministers agreeing on the level of catches, which have proven to always exceed the maximum levels suggested by scientists. The current proposal from the ministers will if passed later this year in effect undercut the attempts by the Commission to remove the powers of regulating the level of catches from the ministers.

The ministers agreed that their suggestions for regulating deep water fisheries should be linked to another issue to be settled later this year about fishing licences. For now the ministers forwarded their suggestions to the European parliament to get the parliamentarians comments. A final decision on the issue of regulating the quotas on fish living in deep waters will therefore first be taken at a future meeting towards the end of the year. Thus, in effect the suggestions will first come into effect on January 1. 2003. In the meantime the fisheries on the deep water species may continue more or less as before. This is to the great dismay of the Commission and the British and Danish representatives who voted against the decision. They felt it was important already this year to regulate the fisheries effort on the species in question, as they fear an imminent collapse of the stocks.

Sweden and Denmark also forwarded their concerns about the situation for the cod living in the Baltic Sea. The stock has been heavily overtaxed they claimed, and is about to collapse. The ministers noted the concern, but did not agree on any specific action. However, the ministers did agree on a resolution against illegal fishing.

There appears to be a deep rift in viewpoints between the southern European countries and their northern peers in the needs for a huge reform in the fisheries policy and how to go about it. The southern Europeans call themselves "the friends of the fisheries", whereas the northerners are called "the friends of the fish". However, as Commissioner Franz Fischler put it "the real friends of the fisheries are those who are deemed the friends of the fish". He points out the fact that the so-called friends of the fishermen insist on regulating the fishery effort as little as possible. The ensuing result will be empty seas and a whole fishery sector going bust. The Commission therefore insists that there is a genuine need to save the fish in order to save the fisheries and most of the northern European member states agree. There will be some though fights over the future of the European fisheries to be fought in the coming months.



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