In many ways the bluster from Europe's fisheries ministers the week before Christmas is as predictable as a pantomime script, if only it were meant to be funny! They all trumpet a 'fair deal' and talk about 'striking a balance', and most hilariously, 'respecting the science'. But in reality short-term political expediency continues to trump scientific reality. Today the EU announced its fishing quotas for 2009, as usual doing their best to ignore their own scientists' recommendations. Instead they agreed to increase quotas for endangered North Sea cod by 30 per cent, after the scientists had recommended that to be safe they shouldn't be catching any.
This is just the latest example of the disastrous impact which the Common Fisheries Policy has had on European fish stocks during the 25 years of its existence. Each year we are forced to witness the annual farce of bungling bureaucrats awarding quotas to their own fishermen which cannot possibly be sustained in the longer-term. The net result - collapsing fish stocks across all Eurpean waters.
In the case of North Sea cod, the quota increase could lead to their commercial extinction. In 2000 ICES scientists estimated that there were only 70,000 tonnes of cod left in the North Sea, less than half the amount needed for sustainable fishing to tale place - to put this in perspective, that figure was down from around 300,000 tonnes in the early 1980s. So rather than protecting the jobs of the fishermen, allowing these sorts of catch levels could lead to fishermen fishing themselves out of a job. It’s a confusing scenario to be told that in order to improve selectivity and catch less cod, they need quotas to catch more cod!
The Common Fisheries Policy isnt working, for the fishing industry, or for our seas. It's clear that these quota decisions have to be taken out of the hands of fisheries ministers if there is to be any chance of real recovery for Europe’s decimated fish stocks. The needless waste of fisheries discards, and the mismanagement of our seas is all the more relevant today as concerns on food wastage and sustainability increase.