Europe and Central Asia
5 Mar 2020

There aren’t plenty more fish in the sea – so what is the EU going to do?

By Bruna Campos, Senior Marine Policy Officer
Over the past ten years, the EU has been calling for “blue growth” at sea, propelling the rhetoric that the ocean’s vast and untapped potential can support increased human activities. In reality, there has never been any vast, nor untapped potential at sea. As with the planet at large, what we have are fragile ecosystems that have been relentlessly degraded and are now on the verge of collapse. 
 
It is undeniable that we have fished our seas to ruin. The UN global assessment on biodiversity names fishing as the biggest culprit for biodiversity loss at sea. In the EU, this means that we have overfished fish populations with our mismanagement; we have degraded seabed and reef communities by allowing trawling; and populations of dolphins, sea turtles, seabirds have declined as a result of being caught in nets and hooks.  
 
This has been done through the EU’s approach to incentivise destructive fishing by increasing the capacity of fishing vessels - allowing them to fish more. Fishing industries shouted pompous claims that this is good for people, the economy and our society drowning out the findings of fisheries economists and scientists: dishing out subsidies to fund higher fishing capacity has increased destructive fishing. EU taxpayer money has been used to pay for new vessels, to replace engines, and to compensate fishers who have not been able to fish due to area closures. 
 
More often than not, EU decision makers shamefully deny any wrongdoing, and greenwash actions that are clearly damaging and harmful for both the environment and us. For example, the European Commission says that “99% of fish is caught sustainably1”  in the EU. This is an impossible contradiction as 87% of the Mediterranean and 40% of the North East Atlantic are overfished according to their own scientific assessment! 
 
The EU has the most overfished waters – and the Mediterranean is often cited as a “special” case due to corruption and fraud. But the EU has fundamental problems with how it manages and protects its own waters everywhere. An audit on the Danish distribution of European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) found that not only was Denmark not correctly sanctioning fishing vessels that broke the laws, but they were also giving these vessels subsidies! 
 
Recently, more than 100 NGOs put out a ‘Blue Manifesto’ for the next ten years, detailing specific actions that need to happen to save EU seas. But the future strategies that can actually be the life-vest our oceans so desperately need – the Biodiversity Strategy and the Farm to Fork Strategy lack any concrete actions that guarantee the reform of destructive industries and ensure that marine ecosystems will be given the chance to recover. All we know for certain through the EMFF discussions taking place right now, is that decision makers want to keep spending EU taxpayer money on harmful subsidies. 
 

1. How can the European Commission state “99% of fish is caught sustainably”? They only address fish stocks that are actually assessed and not accounting for stocks that are with other countries (e.g. Norway). They also use volume of fish instead of fish stocks – therefore one large stock doing well inflates the many other stocks not doing so well. 

 



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