EU hopes to complete fisheries reform by end of 2011

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The European Union hopes to complete a reform of its Common Fisheries Policy, which it launched in 2008, by the end of next year, Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki said on Wednesday.

"I hope that by the end of next year we will have a new policy," she said at an informal gathering of fisheries ministers from the 27-nation EU in Vigo, the largest fishing port in Spain.

The EU needs a "turning point" for its policy because of "overfishing and overcapacity of the European fleet", she added.

Spanish Agriculture and Marine Affairs Minister Elena Espinosa, whose country holds the rotating six-month presidency of the EU, said ministers had agreed on several points of the reform at the gathering.

She cited the need to "find formulas to avoid the rejection" of dead fish that are caught by fishermen as well as the need to give a more active role to regional fisheries management organisations as examples.

Ministers also agreed on the need to "establish a difference between small-scale fisheries and industrial fisheries" but there was no agreement yet on how to define these, she added.

Damanaki said one of the most controversial proposals on the table -- the creation of transferable fishing quotas -- could be "a good tool to fight overcapacity at the national level" as long as it is accompanied by safeguards to prevent excessive concentration.

Spain supports the establishment of a European market for fishing rights but it has found itself isolated on this point as almost all other member states opposed it, several diplomatic sources told AFP.

Even nations that have already implemented such markets at the national level such as Denmark, the Netherlands and Estonia are reluctant to extend this principle at EU level out of fear that powerful foreign companies could appropriate their quotas, they said.

Earlier this week environmental group Greenpeace charged that Spain's fishing fleet, Europe's largest, is using massive EU subsidies to "plunder" the oceans of the world.

About 400 Spanish vessels, representing more than half of the country's gross tonnage, fish outside the EU for at least 90 percent of their time, it said in a new report.

Two Greenpeace ultralight aircraft pulling banners that read "EU: Save Our Seas" flew over the site of the gathering on Wednesday.

"Meaningful reform must begin here in Vigo, home to the EU's richest, most destructive and notorious fishing fleet. Greenpeace is calling on Spain to stop overfishing today if we are to protect fish stocks for tomorrow," said the group's oceans campaigner Farah Obaidullah.

"Ministers gathered here must not add insult to the injury of overfishing and ocean destruction by continuing to force European taxpayers to subsidise Spain's devastating fishing armada."

Previous reforms by the EU, which has the third largest fishing fleet on the planet, of its Common Fisheries Policy, have always fallen short of keeping fisheries healthy, according to Greenpeace.

The group wants EU member states to cut their fishing fleet capacity, increase the area that is protected by marine reserves to 40 percent and end destructive and wasteful fishing practices.

The EU reviews and reforms its Common Fisheries Policy every ten years.

© 2010 AFP

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