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Saving fish stocks – For a thorough reform of the Common Fisheries Policy

In a statement published today, the German Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) supports a fundamental reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

Prof Manfred Niekisch, member of the SRU, urgently warns: “Setting fisheries management on a track to sustainability requires a real change of course”. It is the EU’s responsibility to halt the overexploitation of fish stocks and destruction of marine habitats by fishing activities. The proposal for a CFP reform presented by the European Commission in July of this year is a step in the right direction, but in some areas the SRU sees a substantial need for corrections.

According to the SRU, the objective of the European fisheries policy should be to be able to manage the fish stocks on the highest possible or healthy level. This means that the stocks should be allowed to recover to a level which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. This would require abandoning a fisheries policy that only aims at avoiding the collapse of stocks. Such a sustainable fisheries policy would inevitably have to halt the overexploitation of the European fish stocks. Fishing quota should be set only on the basis of binding, scientifically-based limits which should be incorporated into the CFP Basic Regulation. The SRU also holds the view that fishing quota should be set taking into account the precautionary principle.

This implies that fishing quota should incorporate adequate safety margins which reflect the uncertainties surrounding the development of stocks. The SRU takes a positive view on the proposal of the European Commission to aim for stock levels which can produce the maximum sustainable yield. It is, however, unlikely that this level can simultaneously be attained for all stocks because of interdependencies between different populations. For this reason, it is necessary to complement this objective with percentage limits on the removal of stock biomass which cannot be exceeded under any circumstances.

Another unsolved problem next to overfishing is the high by-catch of juvenile fish and non-target species. A large share of these fishes is discarded overboard and dies, thereby being lost to the stocks and the ecosystem. Prof Karin Holm-Müller, member of the SRU, says: “By-catch which is dumped overboard undermines all efforts to achieve a sustainable fisheries management through fishing quota. This practice should be stopped immediately.” For this reason, the SRU welcomes the discard ban proposed by the European Commission. Contrary to the Commission’s proposal, this should not be limited to important commercial species but should apply to all species, not least in order to facilitate controls. Such a ban would be an important incentive for fishermen to adopt measures to reduce by-catch. In addition, the SRU considers it necessary to adopt further measures to protect marine ecosystems from fishing activities. This concerns not only technical requirements for environmentally friendly fishing techniques but also the thorough implementation of marine protected areas. The designation of marine protected areas is a necessary step but far from sufficient. Key is the appropriate management of those areas. An effective protection involves that these areas comprise zones in which human activities are generally not permitted.

A basic condition for the success of a reform of the CFP is the reduction of overcapacity in fishing fleets which is still supported by subsidies. Some countries, including Germany, have already significantly reduced their fishing fleets. Other fleets remain at a level which is too high for a sustainable management of fish stocks. The overcapacities create economic pressure to set fishing quotas at levels which are too high from an ecological point of view and lead to illegal fishing activities. They also contribute to an export of the problem of overfishing to countries outside the EU, for example in West Africa. This endangers the nourishment and livelihood of the coastal population in those countries. “It is necessary to set binding capacity limits for the individual fisheries”, emphasises Prof. Niekisch. The SRU takes the position that the limits set in the proposal by the European Commission are considerably too high to bring about an effective capacity reduction.

For further information, please contact Dr. Christian Hey
on +49 (0)30-26 36 96-0.
(The English version of the report will be available by end of January 2012).
The Advisory Council on the Environment (SRU) was founded in 1971 to advise the German government. The Council is made up of seven university professors from a range of different environment-related disciplines. This ensures an encompassing and independent evaluation from a natural scientific and technical as well as from an economic, legal, and political science perspective. The Council has currently the following members:
Prof. Dr. Martin Faulstich (Chair), Technische Universität München
Prof. Dr. Heidi Foth (Vice Chair), Universität Halle-Wittenberg
Prof. Dr. Christian Calliess, Freie Universität Berlin
Prof. Dr. Olav Hohmeyer, Universität Flensburg
Prof. Dr. Karin Holm-Müller, Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn
Prof. Dr. Manfred Niekisch, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt, Zoologischer Garten Frankfurt

Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs, Freie Universität Berlin

Christian Simon | idw
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