Following the European Commission releasing its package of proposals for radical fisheries reform last week, based on extensive consultations over the last 24 months, Slow Food and its network of fishing communities is calling for more protection for artisan and small-scale fishing and a move away from regulation that will continue to encourage the industrial fishing industry.
Presenting the plans last Wednesday, European Commissioner Damanaki said that the reforms are an “overhaul” in favor of cutting overfishing and replenishing fish stocks by 2015. “Sustainability, efficiency and consistency” have been promoted as the three pillars in the reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) by the Commissioner. On the positive front, the new regulation plans to ban the current massive discarding of by-catch fish at sea – as of 2013 all caught fish must be brought to shore and counted – and to promote resource conservation and the use of science as the basis for fisheries management.
One of most problematic measures proposed in the package is a blunt economic instrument designed to drastically reduce fishing capacity: the introduction of individual transferable (fishing) quotas (ITQs) for all vessels over 12 meters in length, and for all vessels under 12 metres with towed gears (trawlers, dredges etc). This will essentially open the market for owners of large boats who have reached their maximum catch to purchase additional shares from those who remained under the limit.
“We applaud the decision to phase out the unacceptable practice of throwing back fish,” said Silvio Greco, marine biologist and president of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee. “However, we note with regret, that despite our positive discussions with Commissioner Damanaki in May, that the reform proposals are lacking courage in taking the steps necessary to address the situation, which everyone agrees is at a critical point.”
Brian O’Riordan, Secretary of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) in Belgium, concurred with these sentiments, stating that: “There is no doubt that Europe’s fisheries are sick: obese on subsidies, vomiting up discards, consumptive of fuel and other resources, and generally unable to meet consumer demands. But along with a blunt instrument for fleet reduction, the cure must surely provide an energizing injection and or at least setting a level playing field for Europe’s small-scale artisanal fisheries. If Europe’s fisheries have a future, small-scale artisanal fisheries must surely form a central part in it.”
“Unless the Commission’s blunt instrument is applied with care and discrimination, it could prove fatal to the most environmentally sustainable and most socially equitable fishery operations. Early promises that such care and discrimination would be applied through a differentiated approach seem to have faded into the background,” said O’Riordan.
Small-scale fishers Jan and Barbara Geertsema from Texel Island in the Netherlands are very happy to see measures to improve fish stocks and support a rich marine life – a vital aspect for them and other small-scale fishers using methods that are less invasive but also less effective in terms of catch than modern trawling.
However, they are very unhappy with the plans for ITQ’s, which they believe will result in a loss of ownership and stewardship of local fishing resources in some regions; a concentration of catch rights among bigger companies who employ fishers; and increased fishing of single species despite the variety of local fishing resources given the investments needed to purchase catch rights.
“This system will end up in big concentrations of catch rights in ports with deep water and big fishing vessels,” said Jan, “… leaving coastal communities with smaller ports and smaller boats without catch rights. Whole fishing communities may loose the right to catch the fish that is swimming right on their own coast. These problems have happened in countries that already have ITQ’s. We are against this because of the effects, especially socio-economic effects, on communities based on small-scale fisheries.”
In addition, they are concerned about the plan to force all fishermen, and small-scale fishermen alike, to bring all bycatch to the harbor. In the Netherlands, Jan and Barbara use a special tank to first let the bycatch recover and than let them go back to the sea, thus improving the survival rate significantly. And in their view, small bycatch that dies should be returned to the sea as food for the marine ecosystem.
“We don’t believe in taking small unwanted bycatch to the harbor to be used as food for fish farms,” said Jan. “Of course survival of bycatch is easiest when you fish on a small-scale. Big trawlers have little possibility to improve the survival of bycatch as everything is squeezed together in the nets. It is really their problem, but with a 100% discard ban it will also become our problem.”
This brings us back to the central issue underlying the direction of the new Common Fisheries Policy. Large-scale fleets remain the key consideration, and there appears to be little consideration or pro-active support for the small-scale fishing communities who are currently showing us a better approach.
“The proposed reforms continues the logic of promoting industrial fishing and forgetting the thousands of artisanal fishing communities, which remain the only real example of sustainable use of fishing resources that protects our marine environments and coastal ecosystems,” said Greco. “The three concepts of sustainability, efficiency and consistency seem to be overlooked: we are more concerned about the market than the sea.”
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