Maria Damanaki, the EU’s maritime commissioner, admitted that Europe’s Common Fishing Policy (CFP) had failed and created a “vicious circle” where overfishing was endangering fish species.
Pledging to scrap an EU quotas system that forces fishermen to throw away or “discard” up to 80 per cent of their catch, Mrs Damanaki apologised for a policy that has pushed Europe’s fish stocks to the brink of extinction.
“I have no problem to apologise if something is wrong,” she said.
“We cannot afford business as usual. Maybe 10 years ago, the past, it was easier for us, in the European Commission, in governments, in the sector, to close our eyes. We cannot do that anymore because if we do our children will see fish, not on their plates, but only in pictures.”
“If it’s business as usual, in 10 years only eight out of 136 stocks will be healthy.”
Mrs Damanaki, 59, a former student militant imprisoned by the Greek dictatorship in 1973, has proposed unprecedented reforms to policies that have led to overfishing of 75 per cent of EU fisheries stocks.
After 28 years of the EU’s CFP, 88 per cent of European fish stocks are over-fished, compared to 25 per cent elsewhere in the world and Europe depends on imports for two thirds of its fish.
Her overhaul of Europe’s fisheries, controlled centrally in Brussels since 1983, will replace an annual battle between national governments over catch quotas from 2013 with long term 15-year plans based on scientific advice.
She is also demanding an end to “micro-management” of fisheries by the EU, with day to day decision-making devolved to regional bodies across Europe instead of the current system where Brussels officials and Mediterranean countries can interfere in the running of North Sea fishing, and vice versa.
“Even the most detailed technical decisions – like: what mesh size can fishermen use to fish for prawns in the Golf de Gascoigne – have to be taken at the highest level in the European machinery,” she complained.
“I want to decentralise.”
If her reforms are accepted, with painful reductions to existing fishing fleets, Mrs Damanaki has predicted that fishing stocks will recover by 70 per cent in 10 years, allowing a 17 per cent increase in catch quotas.
Britain will be a key ally in the Greek commissioner’s looming battle over who is in control of fisheries with many of her own EU officials, MEPs and countries such as France, Spain, Portugal and Ireland ranged against her.
The Daily Telegraph understands that the Commission’s lawyers and the European Parliament are hostile to decentralising, proposals that go against the grain of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the EU even more “exclusive” powers to run fisheries.
“The current CFP has failed. It has not given us healthy fish stocks and it has not delivered a sustainable living for our fishing industry. Only genuine fundamental reform of this broken policy can turn around these failures,” said Richard Benyon, the British fisheries minister.
Britain has also promised to lead the EU by implementing unilateral bans on the discards following a celebrity campaign by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the television chef, against EU rules that force fishermen to throw away 23 per cent of all the fish caught in Europe.
“We need to end the unacceptable practice of throwing dead fish back to the sea. It’s a terrible waste of perfectly good food and one of the biggest failings of the CFP,” said Mr Benyon.
But environmentalists and conservationists have warned that measures to reduce overfishing must be stronger.
Oceana, a campaigning group, criticised a discard ban that initially applies to less than 26 per cent of fish as “an incomplete work that does not provide the urgently needed strong solutions”.
Published on: July, 13 2011 by Bruno Waterfield, The Telegraph - European Commission apologises for disastrous fishing policy .