An analysis by WWF shows that over the past nine years fisheries ministers have only followed scientific advice in 13 per cent of their decisions; and set fishing quotas on average 45 per cent higher than the recommended scientific advice. This means that ministers have approved fishing of 6.2 million extra tons of fish, in addition to the scientifically proposed catch levels – this is legalised overfishing.
WWF’s analysis paints a worrying picture of legalised overfishing by EU governments.
“The European Parliament needs to see what a bad job fisheries ministers have been doing over the past decade. One extraordinary example of this is a deviation of 264 per cent above scientific advice for sole in 2008! MEPs now have a unique opportunity and the power to right a wrong and the answer is simple – listen to science and let fish stocks recover,” says Tony Long, Director of WWF’s European Policy Office.
To add to the problem of not following scientific advice, the setting of quotas does not include the quantity of fish that is thrown overboard and wasted and not registered as catch. For example between 2003 and 2005, fishing of North Sea cod alone resulted in 18,000 tons of fish being discarded, equivalent to filling around 1,300 average sized rubbish trucks.
In Europe almost half the stocks in the northeast Atlantic are overfished and in the Mediterranean this figure is as high as 80 per cent. EU fishing fleets have been plundering European waters for too long, resulting in two-thirds of assessed fish stocks being overfished in total. Continuing this way will prove devastating not only toEurope’s fish stocks but also to the fishing industry in the long-term, where we will see a decline in profits and income for fishermen, unless the upcoming EU fisheries reform ensures that fish stocks are recovered and managed at sustainable levels.
“To add insult to injury, by disregarding scientific advice, fisheries ministers are effectively not only making decisions that are depleting a ‘public good’ such as fish, but they are also wasting fish through discarding and wasting EU citizens’ money. Between 2003 and 2012, the European Union paid around €7.5 million to ICES for a scientific service which the fisheries ministers are simply not taking into account when making their decisions. Something has got to change,” continues Tony Long.
Positive trends in fish stocks recovering have been seen in recent years, however all too often they are an exception rather than a rule. The current situation needs to be reversed and legal overfishing needs to be stopped – fish stocks will only be able to recover when the right political decisions are made which follow scientific advice.