Outline emerges for EU fisheries policy reform

Green paper on overhaul of CFP focuses on urgent need to slash fleet sizes, take environmental issues seriously

Fundamental changes to the EU common fisheries policy (CFP) are urgently required to ensure the survival of fish stocks and fishermen alike, warns a green paper published today by the European Commission. The sector's economic and environmental "spiral of decline" must be halted by cutting fleet sizes, launching conservation programmes and improving enforcement, says the paper.

Summarising the industry's current crisis, the Commission lays much of the blame at the feet of EU fisheries ministers, who it alleges have consistently ignored the warnings of scientists and set unsustainably high total allowable catches (TACs). Another reason why almost twenty years of the CFP has been marked by failure lies with a history of not engaging in genuine consultation with fishermen, says EU's executive.

What's needed now is a reformed CFP with "clear, coherent and compatible objectives" and a central goal to restore "fish stocks to healthy levels within balanced marine ecosystems," says the paper. Its proposed changes range from updating the CFP's overarching aims to measures for improvements in enforcement in specific regions such as the Mediterranean.

The paper acknowledges that cutting fleet sizes will "inevitably lead to job losses," but emphasises that employment in the catching sector is already in steady decline, dropping almost 20% from 1990-1997 alone. Aid should shift to decreasing communities' dependence on fishing, it recommends.

An overhauled CFP must also look beyond EU waters and introduce measures to improve the international credibility of EU fisheries, the paper says. Otherwise "the status of the Community as a responsible international player will be undermined."

Responding to the green paper today, environmental group WWF complained that despite correctly identifying many of the problems it proposed too few concrete reforms. The NGO warned of a "long and hard debate" in the run-up to expected formal proposals on revising the CFP from 2003, which are due before the end of the year.

Follow Up:
European Commission fisheries directorate, tel: +32 2 299 1111, and press release; WWF European office, tel: +32 2 743 8800.

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