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Europe and Central Asia
22 Jan 2015

Sustainable fisheries and imaginative loopholes

Trawler © Guy Shorrock
By Bruna Campos

European seas are in the brink of collapse. Despite the improved Common Fisheries Policy, several forces out there are determined to scupper the efforts to make our fisheries sustainable. Management plans cannot be delayed further, and Member states need to make an effort in implementing environmental directives. The first opportunity decision makers will have to do so is through the Baltic multiannual plan, which will set a precedent for all other regional seas plans.

The EU overhauled its Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013, with a newly improved and sustainable political vision for managing EU fisheries. However, this vision still needs several new regulations to actually see its fruition. Unfortunately, there are several forces out there determined to scupper the efforts to make our fisheries sustainable by pushing for very illogical loopholes. In 2015 we will have to ensure that vision of a sound stewardship of the sea and its resources is rightfully implemented.

In 2015, good management can start in the Baltic

The first opportunity decision makers will have to set the ball rolling is through the Baltic multiannual plan, which will set a precedent for all other regional seas plans. This is meant to be an all-encompassing plan that should set management requirement for the fisheries exploiting cod, sprat, and herring. This plan should detail out the maximum number of individuals that can be removed from a fish stock, an outline of emergency measures if fish numbers reach certain dangerous thresholds, , and modifications or techniques that need to be taken up by fishermen to minimise their impact on the wider environment. Later in the year, we can also expect more regulations to control data that fisherman need to collect, technical measures (e.g. rules on fishing gear) and a plan for the North Sea and Atlantic.

But why do we care?

Seabirds are greatly impacted by the mismanagement of fisheries, not only because overfishing threatens their food supply, but also from their accidental capture in fishing gear, such as on hooks and in nets.   In many cases, simple and cost effective solutions exist that can also make fishing more selective. To ensure both a healthy marine environment and a viable fishing industry we need to tackle these issues. If fisheries management is implemented correctly we could ensure that fishermen continue to fish in the long term (instead of killing their industry within the next few years), and that the number of seabirds caught is drastically reduced.

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Example of an illogical loophole that politicians need to avoid

Sometimes, politicians can have a strange sense of humour when looking for loopholes. When a fisherman catches a fish that they didn’t intend to catch, they throw (i.e. discards) the fish back out into the sea, often dead. Unfortunately, unwanted catch (the real problem leading to discards) has an impact on both the fish stocks and the broader ecosystem, as it removes young fish that have yet to breed. 

Fortunately, the new CFP decided that all the fish caught need to be landed, effectively “banning” all discards. This is a positive step, as it drives fisherman to use more selective gear and provides more reliable catch data. However, politicians always try to come up with some loopholes to help their lobby industry friends get away with their wrongdoing.

Fish caught on hooks and nets are easy prey for seabirds or seals. Fish that get caught can get damaged by seals and seabirds, and fishermen tend to discard these half eaten fish. What is the loophole? EU Member States from the Baltic Sea decided that a fish damaged by a seal is to be considered to have died a “natural death”. Defining as natural the death of fish caught in nets or hooked on baited lines is questionable. But the real problem is that this risks completely undermining the discard ban. Fishermen will be allowed to discard these fish without having to keep any records of this. And so the loophole for fishermen is that they will not land their bycaught fish and blame it on potentially imaginary seals – only the fisherman will know the truth. Such loopholes can be avoided if both Council and the European Parliament are committed to implement legally binding legislation (i.e. the new CFP). Will they work for the long term health of ecosystems, fish populations and the fishing industry? Or will they once again serve the greedy interests focused on short term gain?

What do we actually need from decision makers in 2015?

European seas are in the brink of collapse. For the sake of improving the environmental status of EU seas and sustaining those sectors that depend on it, including the fisheries and tourism sectors, new management plans for fisheries management cannot be left up to chance. Instead, greater detail on rules on fishing vessels needs to be included. Furthermore, member states need to make an even greater effort in implementing environmental directives. This includes designating more marine protected areas for seabirds in order not only to adhere to the Bird’s Directive, but to also ensure that spatial planning of EU seas is effective and efficient.


Stichting BirdLife Europe gratefully acknowledges financial support from the European Commission. All content and opinions expressed on these pages are solely those of Stichting BirdLife Europe.