Where were you when you heard the news? I was sitting in a very chilly train station in Edinburgh, cursing a delayed train, unable to extricate myself from Twitter to go get a restorative coffee, when the news came through: Members of the European Parliament, those elected but often-maligned creatures, had voted overwhelmingly in favour of radical, progressive reform of Europe’s fish laws.
This was a stonking result.
On Wednesday 6th February, Parliamentarians from all 27 of the EU member states voted one by one on specific fishy issues, then they got to the big vote – to decide whether or not to adopt the whole package of measures agreed – and voted almost 5 to 1 in favour of the sort of reforms that us fish-heads could only have dreamed about a year ago.
I’ll try and put it into layperson’s speak, as I know the Common Fisheries Policy is about the least sexy topic anyone could talk about, but the suite of measures they overwhelmingly agreed to support, in this one-a-decade reform package, included:
- Rebuilding fish stocks to sustainable levels
- Setting catch limits in line with the best scientific advice
- Banning discards
- Priority access to those who fish in environmentally & socially beneficial ways
- Tightening the rules on how EU vessels fish in distant waters
What made it all go so darned well then?
Well, you did. If you’re reading this there’s a good chance you’ve already helped. You might have signed a fish card; or a petition; you may have emailed or written to your MEP, or minister; you might have tweeted, or shared a video or message through Facebook; you might even have gone all the way to Strasbourg and dressed up as a fish to raise awareness.
The fact is that across Europe there was an unprecedented cooperation between campaign groups,fishermen, champion politicians, retailers, and celebrity chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (and his European doppelgangers) – making sure that our MEPs quite simply could not ignore what their electorate wanted.
Roger Harriban of the BBC described it as a ‘victory for citizen power’. So, thank you citizens! You’ve helped set Europe on the road to a fish-filled future. Here in the UK we can also be proud that our MEPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of sweeping reforms.
And that was despite powerful opposition from nations like France and Spain, who have typically been major stumbling blocks to any real change.
This overwhelming endorsement from EU Parliamentarians comes just two months after theinfluential fisheries committee also endorsed a radical reform package. The mood has shifted. The European public now expects things to change.
But will they?
Well there are a few more hurdles, but they should be easy to clear, if our governments have been paying attention to the public mood. The next stage will see a period of getting agreement from European Fisheries Ministers for the final package of reforms that is adopted. That could take several months still.
Greenpeace certainly won’t be letting up on this campaign until it’s all over, and after this week’s deserved celebrations are over there is work to be done. It’s now up to all of us, campaign groups, and powerful citizens like you to make sure Richard Benyon and his colleagues know what they have to deliver, in Brussels and at home – a fish-filled future for Europe’s seas.
Willie Mackenzie is Head of our Oceans Campaign for Greenpeace UK