February 6, 2013, marks an important turning point for European fishing. During a plenary session, the European Parliament voted with an overwhelming majority (502 in favor and 137 against) to approve the proposals to reform the Common Fisheries Policy. The reform’s most ambitious objectives include setting fishing quotas by 2015 that will allow Maximum Sustainable Yields (the largest catch that can be taken from a species’ stock) to be reached by 2020, and the banning of discards, fish thrown back in the sea, usually because they are of an unwanted species or size.
Slow Food has been following the legislative process and is happy to see that the decisions made finally take into consideration not only economic but also ecological parameters.
While there are a number of positive aspects, the reform, however, is still based on applying an industrial logic to fishing, while seeking to neutralize its most negative effects. It will still seriously hit artisanal fishing (which makes up 80% of the European fleet and has a low environmental impact), and risks not being effective it it is not accompanied by an equally ambitious environmental policy.
Silvio Greco, the president of the Scientific Committee of Slow Fish, the campaign for responsible fishing that Slow Food has been running for many years, applauds the fact that the European Union has understood the necessity of intervening decisively on the question of the protection of marine resources, with measures aimed at combating overfishing based on selective fishing techniques. However, he also emphasized the need to take adequate measures to eliminate coastal pollution, one of the other causes of falling fish stocks.
The new policy must also take into account regional characteristics and differences, and Slow Food is positive about the measure concerning “long term management plans to be established for every fishery through co-decision,” which, it is hoped, will be able to involve all the local actors. This would perhaps avoid the application of certain rules that could cause further damage to artisanal fishing or an increase in illegal activities.
For example, Barbara and Jan Rodenburg-Geertsema, fishers from the Slow Food Wadden Sea Traditional Fishers Presidium in the Netherlands, explain: “We don’t want special conditions, just fair laws that will allow us to carry on with our activities in a legal and profitable way. Let’s take for example a European regulation from 2009, which obliges fishers to weigh their catch before any sale, storage or transport operation, and which the Dutch Fishing Ministry wants to apply to the letter. This would mean the disappearance of hundreds of small-scale artisanal fishers who still survive in the Netherlands, because there is no space on our boats and we don’t have the financial means to buy the regulation scales required.”
Slow Food strongly believes that solutions must arise through practice and dialogue between the different stakeholders (local, national and regional), which is why the organization is working on Presidia projects involving fishing communities in many different countries, to give value to local resources and their responsible collective management.