Europe and Central Asia
3 May 2011

The EU must reform fisheries and farm policies if it is to save biodiversity

By BirdLife Europe

BirdLife Europe welcomed the release of the EU Biodiversity strategy issued on May 3rd, setting out the key actions the EU must  take in order to reverse the decline of biodiversity and ecosystems by 2020. According to BirdLife Europe, the strategy has the potential to bring Europe closer to environmental stability, although the targets and measures published by the European Commission represent the bare minimum needed  to avoid massive ecological and economic costs, and will only be achieved  if the strategy is fully implemented and financed by the EU and Member States.

At the same time the NGO stressed that the real tests of the  EU’s commitment to  achieving its biodiversity target commitment are the reforms of the EU’s fisheries and agriculture policies, currently being debated in Brussels. “The new strategy offers a positive, if somewhat un-ambitious, blueprint for saving our natural capital and the crucial services it provides to society”, said Angelo Caserta, Regional Director of BirdLife Europe. “It remains to be seen whether the EU and Member States have the political will to actually put an end to over fishing and to shift farm subsidies from those farmers that are harming the environment to those practicing sustainable farming and hence address the key pressures driving biodiversity loss”.

The strategy provides a six-point battle plan for tackling the collapse of biodiversity, from  properly managing the EU’s Natura 2000 network of protected areas to combating the spread of invasive alien species, from habitat restoration to supporting developing countries in their own nature conservation efforts. But it also clearly highlights the key role played by the two most problematic natural resource-based sectors under EU control: agriculture and fisheries. The strategy calls for far reaching reforms including finally matching fishing effort to the regeneration capacity of fish stocks and the extension of biodiversity-friendly agri-environmental schemes .

In 2010 the EU failed its target of halting biodiversity decline, but Heads of State renewed their commitment, promising not only to reverse the decline but also to start restoration efforts by 2020. At global level, at the biodiversity summit in Nagoya/Japan last year, the EU committed in addition to achieve sustainability in its farming and fishing sectors and to phase out environmentally harmful subsidies  - all by the end of this decade. With EU decisions looming in the coming year about the Community budget and sectoral policies for the 2014-2020 period, it is clear that without meaningful reforms now, the new Biodiversity Strategy’s chances for success will be reduced to almost zero from the start.

“We are fast reaching a point of no return. If we want to steer our Planet back into safe ecological and climatic limits, governments must act decisively now and see beyond short-term interests. Whether our children and grandchildren will still be able to eat wild fish, enjoy the songs of farmland birds, or indeed live in a world where natural systems protect us against floods, droughts and the worst of climate change, are still open questions” added Angelo Caserta “having a strategy is a good start, but taking action is what matters”. BirdLife Europe is taking action on the ground now to conserve Europe’s amazing wildlife for future generations, and is committed to closely follow implementation of the strategy by the EU and its Member States and ring the alarm bell if progress is hindered through unnecessary delays or political interference.

Example 1 Ortolan Bunting Emberiza hortulana is a beautiful singing bird that used to be a fixed feature of farmland landscapes across much of Europe. Farming intensification has lead to catastrophic collapses in most of Western Europe where the species have disappeared from entire regions and often become rare and localised. Overall populations have declined by 82%. In some of the new EU Member states, Ortolan Bunting populations are still thriving, but are now under threat as local farmers are being pushed to intensify production, use pesticides and destroy hedgerows.
The CAP should be reformed to redirect money to reward farmers that provide habitats for biodiversity and to encourage them to treat the environment and its services in a respectful way . The loss of biodiversity makes agriculture more vulnerable to pests and reduces key ecosystem services such as pollination. It is also a warning of the broader dead end pursued by much of contemporary farming: soil degradation, water over exploitation and heavy reliance on fossil fuels. In the long run losing the Ortolan Bunting amongst other farmland species would not just make our spring sad, it would cast a shadow on our food resources and our access to clean water.
Example 2: East Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is a classic example of the catastrophic failure of the EU Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) to manage a stock at serious risk of commercial extinction. A recent scientific assessment of the stock by ICCAT (International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas) showed that the current bluefin stock is only one third of sustainable levels, and that only an annual fishing quota of less than 6000 tonnes might allow the stock to rebuild by 2020 with a probability of over 60%. 
The scientists also urged ICCAT’s October 2010 meeting to be especially precautionary in setting catch limits, given the huge uncertainties in the data fuelled by misreporting and other illegal fishing practices. Commissioner Damanaki supported this in calling for a ‘substantial decrease’ in the quota. However, such were the vested interests that ICCAT could only agree a 600 tonne reduction in the quota for 2011 from 13,500 to 12,900 tonnes, risking further damage to the already decimated stock.  The European Community has failed to control the capacity and fishing power of its own bluefin fleet so cannot absolve itself from blame by pointing the figure at non-EU fishing nations in ICCAT.  Between 2000 and 2008, the EU Bluefin Tuna fleet received EU subsidies of €34.5 million of which €33.5 million was for the construction and modernisation of vessels, leaving a negligible sum spent on decommissioning.  The ongoing CFP reform is a last opportunity to get rid of perverse subsidies, to balance fishing effort with available resources, and to rebuild degraded marine ecosystems like the Mediterranean.

The final text of the Strategy, as well as Commission press release and other supporting documents, such as a "citizen summary"  are available now at

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. The European Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.