Don’t kill my fish – time for a radical change

Fisheries88% of European fish stocks are overfished. Most of my favourite fish like (mediterranean) red tuna and ocean perch are about to be extinguished within a generation unless extreme measures are taken. But these problems are common knowledge.

The EU Commission and key member states have for too long resisted a reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). While most northern countries including Germany have long given up on wide-scale fishing, southern member states like Spain, Portugal, France and Italy (and maybe Scotland) have preserved strong and extremely vocal fishing industries. Together these member states have long managed to serve their fishermen’s (short-term) interests by continuously oversubscribing on the annual fishing quotes.

Unfortunately, neither the non-fishing member states have engaged the “fish mafia” in a serious dialogue to tackle the problem with a long-term vision, nor have these fishing nations shown any leadership in facing fishermen and working towards a reform of the sector. The lowest-common denominator in this failed policy is that the tax-payer makes up for this lack of political leadership. In 2009 EU tax-payers foot the annual bill of 630 mio Euro. Annual funds like these have been consistent over past years and no progress in restoring fish stocks has been achieved so far. To the contrary. The overall situation has worsened year by year. In a written question by German Green MP Cornalia Behm even the German government has officially acknowledged that the present policy is suboptimal (there are “implementation shortcomings”). But don’t even expect any of the Bavarian CSU fisheries ministers of this German government to show any interest!

Finally, EU fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg has taken the initiative and presented a Green Book on wide-ranging reform yesterday. I believe that the key proposal among a wide range of measures are individual tradable fishing quotas (ITQs). These would allow fishermen – instead of member states – to be responsible for their own fish stocks. Some people fear that this leads to a concentration process. I believe such a development is unavoidable in any case because there are simply too many fishermen with too much capacity. Any reform needs to go hand in hand with some way of market clearing but the key effect will remain: This system is the best (and only) I have seen to hand over responsibility and incentives to fishermen to manage their stocks in a sustainable way.

However, another interesting proposal by the German Greens is missing: A levy on catch. The idea here is that just as with any other natural resources, a 10% (to be seen) levy on the value of any catch is collected by the state. Such a levy would put a price on fish and should include the bycatch to further minimise it.

I only hope that this (last!) chance for reform is taken serious by all actors and also the non-fishing nations get seriously engaged for once. A healthy fish stock is a precondition for the “fuctioning” of our oceans. And without fish, oceans will no longer live and work the way they – by providing 80% of the O2 we use on this planet. Therefore, the only realistic response to the frightening overfishing of our seas is systemic reform. How much initiative will we see by the new Commission, new European Parliament and among member states?

A good response by WWF UK can be found here. EUObserver also has an article about the Commission proposals.

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