Transforming Europe’s fishing policy – the end and the beginning

Posted by Willie — 16 April 2014 at 10:27am - Comments
All rights reserved. Credit: Greenpeace

Every ten years the European Union’s set of laws on fishing, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), gets an overhaul. Today sees that process get its final approval and rubber-stamping from Members of the European Parliament, as they formally approve the last piece of legislation. So it’s a good time to pause and take stock on what CFP reform means, and why this time round has been a game-changer.

It’s now 2014, and the reform process was meant to happen in 2012. It’s taken a bit longer than expected, but it’s also worth acknowledging that Greenpeace and others have been working on this policy reform since 2009. It’s been a long slog, and a lot of effort from a lot of people, but hopefully it will now see real transformative changes at sea.

There have been a few reasons why this reform process was different. It was more newsworthy, more public and much higher up the political priority list than it has been before – quite simply because more people got involved, and more people coordinated that involvement. Previously this has largely been an area dominated by officials (elected and unelected) from member states, and organised interest groups (read – the big fishing industry). This time, there were others who simply couldn’t be ignored:

NGOs working together - Collaboration between environmental, conservation and other groups was very strong throughout the reform process. In particular, the platform provided by Ocean2012 working alongside established marine groups brought a lot of new interests to the table – everyone from local fishermen, to fish and chip shop owners were involved.

Fish Fight - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall shone a spotlight on Europe’s fisheries through his award-winning UK TV programme Hugh’s Fish Fight. That spawned a whole new campaigning arm of ‘Fish Fighters’ and celebrity champions, and was replicated across Europe in Germany, France, Poland and Spain to positively influence the fisheries reform process.

Low impact fishermen - Greenpeace worked directly with inshore low-impact fishermen across Europe to make sure that reform was about making Europe’s fisheries both sustainable both environmentally and socially. This ground-breaking collaboration saw us bring African fishermen to Europe, work with fishers in the UK, Poland, Spain, Germany, Greece, France and elsewhere. It culminated with a Greenpeace ship tour visiting nine member states and travelling from the Black Sea to the English Channel.

European citizens - The real power though, was you, normal people, European citizens, caring about what happened. Whether you were worried about local fishing communities, aghast at the waste of food through discards, keen to protect ocean critters, or worried about future generations having fish & chips to eat. You got involved. You signed petitions, wrote letters, lobbied, twitter-stormed and all sorts of other things that meant Europe’s politicians had to take notice.

And whilst it might not be perfect from any one angle, the overall outcome of that long, involved, process includes some pretty amazing agreements. They include:

ending overfishing and a ban on discarding fish;

giving priority access to fishing to those who fish in the right way and bring most socio economic benefit;

tightening up the way that Europe’s distant water fishing boats are allowed to operate in places like Africa and the Indian Ocean;  

more regionalised approach to managing fisheries; and

reforming fisheries subsidies

But now, as the reform process ends, the job of transforming Europe’s fishing really begins. Greenpeace and other NGOs as well as Europe’s coastal fishers will be working within Member States to see that the reforms are implemented in the right way – to benefit our seas, our fish, and our coastal communities.

But for today, let’s pause to recognise a lot of effort, some great collaboration, and the huge success of getting so many diverse groups involved in shaping European seas’ shared future.

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