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  Home > Report: EU Fisheries Crisis


The current state of European fisheries, as spelt out by the ICES report, is the worst yet and without significant and immediate action could cause irreversible damage. Despite strict legislation to ensure sustainability, EU fisheries have pushed cod, haddock and whiting stocks to the brink of extinction, a ‘doomsday scenario’ which may lead to a total collapse of the industry as we know it.

Following a territorial dispute with Canada in the late 1970s, the European Union devised a Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in order to ensure a sustainable future for fish stocks. The main legislative element of the CFP was the setting of quotas for member states, by a scheme called Total Allowable Catches (TACs). These regulations were formally introduced in 1983, and TACs have been progressively reduced in the interim years. Several incidents have arisen from the regulations of the CFP, most notably between the UK and Spain over fleet nationalisation disputes.

Various conservation problems have occurred under the CFP, culminating in the current crisis and imminent moratorium on cod fishing in several EU territories. TACs were not always accurately devised, leading to a widespread practice of overfishing and disposal of fish that were caught over-quota. This type of incident dramatically damaged the cyclical sustainability of cod, as many young species were taken out of the equation. Misreporting of quotas was also a major problem in the EU. Therefore TACs did not provide a failsafe guarantee of sustainable fishing and stocks rapidly dwindled.

The recent International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) report on the unsustainable practices of EU fisheries has suggested a blanket ban on cod fishing in various regions as the only way to avoid a total collapse of the species and industry. The proposed territories for a moratorium are the Eastern Channel, Skagerrak, North Sea, Irish Sea and west of Scotland. If the ban is carried out, affected communities will be eligible for financial reimbursement under the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG), however this would be no real compensation for lost livelihoods.

The fishing industry has been quick to respond to the European Commissions threat of a moratorium, and any ban is expected to be contested by the individual governments of affected member states. The realisation that a cod moratorium is required will certainly bring a full revision of the current CFP, a proposal which in fact has been discussed since 2001. It is not known how long a moratorium will be in effect for, but when cod fishing begins again, sustainability must be guaranteed.


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