EU Commission sounds alarm on fishing capacity

Fleet reduction programme "failing to reduce pressure" on dwindling fish stocks

An EU programme aiming to reduce fishing fleet capacity in line with available stocks is failing and should be immediately strengthened, the European Commission warned today. The EU executive criticised member states for refusing to accept parts of its original proposals and demanded that they be reinstated.

With fears growing for the sustainability of European fisheries, the EU has introduced a series of multi-annual guidance programmes (MAGPs) aiming at balancing fishing effort and resources. A fourth MAGP, running from 1997 to the end of 2001, is currently in operation. Following a mid-term review of MAGP IV, the Commission now says it is not meeting its targets and that the real level of fishing effort may even have increased since 1997.

In its original proposal for MAGP IV, the Commission called for cuts in fishing effort of 30% for stocks at risk of depletion and 20% for those over-fished. But ministers agreed to apply these rules on a weighted basis, depending on the composition of catches. The result, the Commission says, is that instead of the overall reduction of 15% proposed, MAGP IV is on track to deliver only 5%.

In addition, member states are effectively subverting the programme's aims by using rules under MAGP IV that allow limitations on fishing activity of existing vessels instead of capacity reduction, the Commission says. Such schemes are weakening the programme's effectiveness, it warns, "because some...member states...have not put in place adequate effort regimes or do not recognise the permanent and binding nature of...activity reductions".

Calling for immediate strengthening of MAGP IV, the Commission said it would push for a return to calculating effort reduction targets without species weightings, as it originally proposed, and for objectives to be entirely through capacity reduction rather than limits on fishing activity. It said that the existing programme should be extended by one year to give these changes time to feed through. A new consultation process would be launched to seek agreement on new, more effective, approaches to be applied after MAGP IV.

Follow Up:
European Commission, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and press release IP/00/455 dated 10/5/00 on Rapid.

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