This week in Brussels, Belgium and Dubrovnik, Croatia, two decisions were made, which will cause great concern for the future of the sea and fish populations. On Monday, EU ministers of agriculture and fisheries decided on catch limits for economically relevant deep-sea fish stocks for 2019 and 2020, while the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) increased the authorized catch quotas of bluefin tuna by 20%. Slow Food is concerned that by favoring the interests of various players in the market, marine ecosystems are put at risk.
AGRIFISH Council Sacrificed Important Conservation Measures
Slow Food regrets that instead of setting sustainable catch limits for 19 deep-water stocks, the Agriculture and Fisheries Council withdrew six stocks from the quota, and agreed on the fishing opportunities for only 13 deep-sea stocks in the EU and international waters in the North-East Atlantic, for 2019 and 2020.
The deep sea is one of the most sensitive areas of the oceans with a huge diversity of habitats and living species, most of which are still unknown to science. Industrial fishing fleets, including those from EU countries, fish in these areas because they consider them to be a source of profitable catches after having heavily exploited many of Europe’s coastal waters. Many deep-sea fish are, however, comparatively slow to reproduce and are particularly vulnerable.
“The Council of Ministers uncritically followed the irresponsible proposal by the European Commission,” says Nina Wolff, Slow Food Germany’s spokesperson for fisheries. “Management of these stocks according to the precautionary principle would have required particularly stringent catch limits, including bans. The competent ministers of the EU countries are well-aware of the great importance of deep-sea fish for marine ecosystems. But important conservation measures have again been sacrificed in favor of simplified quota management.”
Increased Quotas Put Small-scale Fishing at Risk
On the same day, in Dubrovnik, the ICCAT, despite the ICCAT scientific committee recommendations to move to implement a management plan for bluefin tuna, after decades of overfishing, decided to increase the authorized catch quotas of bluefin tuna by 20%. Likewise, against the recommendations of their own scientists, the ICCAT decided to not reduce the catch limit of the severely overfished Bigeye tuna.
Slow Food opposes the substantial increase in fishing quotas of bluefin tuna, foreseeing the risk that more young fish will be taken.
“The quota system appears to have worked so far, since today there are many young fish in the oceans. It is true that stocks are recovering, but in a delicate phase like this, it is crucial not to risk cancelling out the positive results obtained so far,” says Silvio Greco, president of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee. He continued, expressing regret that “the pressures exerted by various actors in the market, responding primarily out of concern for their economic interests, do not always help to bring about the most appropriate decisions.”
Slow Food believes that the beneficiary of this decision will be the industrial fishing sector, which is not selective, and puts the survival of small-scale fishing operations at risk. In the light of ICCAT’s decision, Slow Food urges that the increase in quotas be followed with an appropriate strengthening of regulations to protect against illegal fishing, a phenomenon that is unfortunately ever present.