Expatica news

Europe opts for sustainable fishing

Fish populations in many of Europe’s seas are in trouble, facing chronic overfishing by at least 60% to ensure a sustainable population level. This is even as high 80% in the Mediterranean. Despite the dire situation European ministers have been gradually increasing the limit set by scientific recommendations by as much as 40% in recent years, according to EU parliamentary member Bart Staes Groen. Euro Commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries Maria Damanaki realised the urgency needed to take steps and to the great relief of environmental movements the plan she has been working on for the past year to ensure a more sustainable European fishing policy has just been approved by the European Parliament’s fisheries commission. Saskia Richartz of Greenpeace called it a turning point in the fisheries policy. As from next year the catch of endangered species such as cob, monkfish, pollack and megrim must be reduced by 20% to 25%, says Willy Vanhee, a member of the scientific team at the Institute for Agricultural and Fisheries Research Ilvo. “Basically biologists will determine the maximum catch for every species in a specific area without this resulting in decreased fish populations. In technical jargon the principle is called the ‘maximum sustainable catch’,” he says.
It is hoped that all species will once again be sustainable by 2020. This, according to Ilvo’s scientific director Hans Polet, “is possible” as he refers to the rapid increase of the plaice population after being considered seriously threatened ten years ago. Belgian fishermen who caught mostly sole and plaice were not that bothered by the quota.
There is however another issue that worries Belgian fishermen and that is the intention to make it illegal to throw bycatches that are too small for human consumption overboard. Staes calls the bycatch of fish that often die as a result “1.7 million tons of pure food wastage” and says that selective fishing methods should eventually prevent these losses. Moreover these undersized fish which cannot be sold form part of the quota. Profit margins could therefore be threatened the more so because boats will have to sail more often back to land to unload their stocks. Says Polet: “The fishing of plaice in particular delivers a 20% bycatch. But Flanders plans to introduce more selective fishing methods; this means we will have to invest in new nets.”