Prior to a key vote in the European Parliament on the future Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and the setting up of quotas for 2013 by the Council, the WWF published a report showing that, over the past 9 years, European fisheries ministers have agreed on fishing quotas that were, on average, 45% higher than the levels recommended by scientists. This means that the EU has allowed fishing of more than 6.2 million tonnes of fish beyond the maximum sustainable yield (MSY) – levels of fishing that ensure fish stocks are maintained. ‘This is legalised overfishing,’ warns WWF.
The WWF report accused European governments of almost systematically ignoring scientific advice and setting quotas for short-term economic gains at the expense of long-term sustainability. ‘One extraordinary example of this is a deviation of 264% above scientific advice for Sole in 2008,’ says the Director of the WWF’s European Policy Office.
The report also highlights that, although scientific advice is often ignored, around €7.5 million has been paid since 2003 to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES), the body providing scientific advice on fisheries to EU ministers.
Moreover, the setting of quotas does not include discards – fish thrown overboard and wasted are not registered as catch and do not count against quotas. ‘Between 2003 and 2005, fishing of North Sea cod resulted in 18,000 tons of fish being discarded, equivalent to filling around 1,300 average sized rubbish trucks’, highlights a WWF representative.
WWF called on the European Parliament to ensure the reformed CFP includes goals for the sustainability of fish stocks by 2015, and to end the practice of discards, by introducing an obligation to land all the fish caught.
Managing fisheries by quotas, as is the case for most EU fisheries, is costly. Not only does it need important investment to elaborate sound scientific advice and monitoring so that quotas are respected, but, as shown here, this system often becomes inefficient when political and economic considerations – mostly the fishing industry requesting higher quotas – take precedence over the scientific advice for the fixing of quotas. These shortcomings need to be duly taken into account by ACP countries before engaging in fisheries management by quotas, including allocating access to foreign fishing fleets.