Thursday, 24 March 2011

Is it about politics, economics and opportunists? Or is it just a lack of public awareness?

Part one of a three-part article on The Common Fisheries Policy

Anthony Debono

A quick Google search for the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP, started in 1983) shows that it is considered to be a complete failure and that there is a great need for change. Some British parliamentarians have even suggested that the UK should opt out of the CFP and set up their own sovereign fishing zone.[1] But what are the main problems with the current CFP? Is their any way to fix this mess that Europe’s seas are in?

Last year Greenhouse joined Ocean2012, an international coalition of organisations that have teamed up to promote a successful CFP reform, which is set for 2012. We posted an article[2] on this blog several months ago, announcing the beginnings of our Fish4Tomorrow campaign, alongside other local NGOs (Nature Trust Malta, Sharklab (Malta), Din l-Art Ħelwa and Get Up Stand Up); this campaign is well underway and you will definitely hear more about it closer to summer.

Ocean2012 identify three main areas where the CFP has failed us:[3]

· Overcapacity: It is estimated that some fleet segments in the EU are two to three times the size required to catch the available fishing quotas - we can fish more fish than there are fish. Newer boats with better and better technology are exhausting the stocks we have.

· Catch limits: Overcapacity creates political pressure to set higher and higher fishing quotas to keep all the boats working. In the last years, the catch limits agreed were on average 46 percent higher than scientific advice. In 2007, the quota for one population of Scottish haddock was set at eight times the recommended level.

· Harmful subsidies: The EU continues to provide subsidies to modernise fleets rather than focussing on mitigating overcapacity or investing in technologies that could support more sustainable fisheries. Furthermore, exemption from fuel tax, the cost of national administration, fisheries research and control measures could also be considered a subsidy to the fishing sector. “In several member states, it has been estimated that the cost of fishing to the public budgets exceeds the total value of the catches.” This means we are paying for our fish twice, through subsidies and at the counter.

These are three very direct problems which need to be fixed by the next reform, in 2012, however it’s easy to predict that there will be tremendous political pressure to limit change: cuts to catch limits/quotas and to industry subsidies are not exactly welcome by the multi-billion Euro fishing industry and the economies that they support. A clear example of the lack of political will is the result of the ICCAT meeting in Paris last November, where the quota for Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna was discussed. The world quota for Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic Blue Fin Tuna, in 2010, was 13,500 tonnes. WWF were supporting Commissioner Damanaki’s call for a 50% slash to the world quota for 2011, however all we go was a drop to 12,900 tonnes.[4, 5]

Fishing quotas are a hot issue locally, in the EU and on a global platform. Unfortunately, scientific recommendations for sustaining healthy fish stocks, which we could harvest for centuries to come, are being drowned out by the industry; an industry that keeps on insisting that more and more and more is what we need. It is a sad fact that even though we have technology, know-how and incredible information on fish stocks, we can’t even manage our fish stocks as successfully as our ancestors, who had none of this.

Our members and followers of this blog might ask the most obvious – what does Greenhouse have to do with all this? Greenhouse is a student organisation, based at the University of Malta. What do we have to do with fish stocks in the Mediterranean and rest of the world? Why should we interfere in the industry, even locally?

One of our main objectives as an organisation is to raise awareness locally on environmental issues and this is one of those issues in which awareness is paramount. Why? So what if the man in the street or the student on campus is aware of the issue of over-fishing? Well, the most significant cause of overfishing is in fact a lack of consumer awareness. It’s all about supply and demand. Fishermen catch fish to sell to the consumer. Most consumers, locally at least, do not make an informed choice when deciding what fish to eat – a survey carried out by the Fish4Tomorrow team found the following results: [7]

70% of respondents do not take sustainability into account when deciding on what fish to eat.

48 % eat Atlantic Bluefin Tuna (a species whose stock is known to be threatened).

81% said that if they knew a fish was endangered/threatened they would not eat it.

96% said that they would choose their fish differently if they were more informed.

A list of fish-species, which are quite popular in Malta, has been drawn up by the Fish4Tomorrow team and these were sorted into categories, based on various criteria, as to whether the fish stocks on these species are sustainable, not-sustainable or somewhere in-between. This information will soon be developed into a handy booklet (a little one that can fit into a wallet or pocket) for everybody to carry around when they go fish shopping or out to eat. This is being done in the hope that the man in the street will start to consider fish sustainability and encourage a change in the everyday habits and attitude we take towards the food which we eat.

On Friday, I will be representing Greenhouse and the Fish4Tomorrow Campaign at "Fished Out?" a conference organised by Din L-Art Ħelwa on the issue of the local fisheries industry. I will be introducing the campaign and the philosophy behind it. Other speakers at the conference include Dr Joe Borg (ex-Fisheries Commissioner, EU), Dr Alan Deidun, Dr John Refalo (Representative, Azzopardi Fisheries), Ms Caroline Muscat (Journalist), Prof Victor Axiak (Marine Biologist) and Dr Robert Vassallo Agius (Aquaculture Scientist). There should be some interesting and lively discussions.



  6. (citing the European Commission)
  7. Fish4Tomorrow Campaign, Market Analysis Report (2010).

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