EU ministers reject fishing fleet cuts plan

Commission proposal to link EU cash to reduced fishing supported by UK alone

Fisheries ministers have rejected a European Commission plan to avoid overfishing by reducing the EU's fishing fleet. A compromise proposal from the German presidency was also rejected after the original plan, to reduce the fleet by 30% in return for EU funds, was opposed by every member state except the UK.

Discussed at an EU fisheries ministers' meeting in Luxembourg last Thursday, the proposal was to make structural funds for the modernisation of the fishing fleet dependent upon a pledge by member states to decommission 1.3 fishing boats for every new boat brought into service. Although an annual fleet reduction regime, the multiannual guidance programme (MAGP), already exists, the Commission argued that technical advances in the fishing capacity of boats meant their numbers had to be reduced even further to protect fish stocks.

The move was opposed by the majority of member states, who claimed that the measure was too restrictive and argued for a one-to-one replacement ratio. Peter Bradhering of the German fisheries ministry told ENDS Daily that Germany had already reduced its fleet to the MAGP target for 2001 and that any additional obligation would make it impossible to renew the German fleet, many of whose boats were more than 30 years old.

The only country to support Commission's original proposal was the UK, ironically one of three EU countries to have failed to meet the MAGP fleet reduction targets. A German compromise to apply the reduction obligation only to those countries failing to meet these targets was also rejected by ministers and the proposal will now be picked up by the incoming Finnish presidency.

The measure is intended to add to EU efforts to further integrate environmental concerns into fisheries policy after a interministerial conference drafted a set of principles for sustainable fishing in Bergen, Norway two years ago (ENDS Daily 14 March 1997). A report presented to ministers outlining subsequent progress highlighted the fact that total allowable catches (TACs) are now set on the basis of the precautionary principle following advice from scientific fisheries monitoring bodies. Germany and the UK have also prepared national reports showing their own progress.

The report will be discussed at a working group meeting of fisheries and environment specialists from member states and the Commission on 29 June (ENDS Daily 28 May). The meeting will aim to maintain the momentum of integration by encouraging other member states to produce their own reports and to create a permanent joint working group to produce proposals for reform of the EU's common fisheries policy. However, a German environment ministry official said he was "not hopeful" of a positive outcome because of opposition from southern EU member states.

Follow Up:
EU Council of Ministers, tel: +32 2 285 6111.

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