EU fisheries "set for biodiversity revival"

Action plan will bring about "radical" change says Commission; WWF slams Natura delays

An ongoing shift in thinking among EU policy makers means the fisheries sector's impact on biodiversity will reduce dramatically with the reform of the common fisheries policy (CFP), a stakeholder conference on four recently-published EU biodiversity action plans heard today.

The plans - covering fisheries, agriculture, natural resources and development - are currently being discussed by governments and will be on the agenda at next month's Gothenburg summit. They are the EU's principal response to the 1992 UN biodiversity convention.

"The forces...weighing on the CFP are such that there will be a radical change over the next two years," John Farnell of the European Commission's fisheries directorate said. There had already been a "significant change in emphasis" within the Commission from resource consumption to conservation, he said, and "signs" that ministers were heading in the same direction.

Penned by the Commission, the action plans set out how biodiversity concerns should be integrated into sectoral policymaking. The goal complements the EU's broader "Cardiff" environmental integration process.

Environmentalists remain sceptical of the EU's commitment to biodiversity. Last week WWF wrote to environment commissioner Margot Wallström, warning that a "lack of political will" in member states was delaying finalisation of the Natura 2000 conservation network, the keystone of the EU's biodiversity efforts. It said Sweden and France were the chief culprits behind decisions to postpone key scientific meetings to select sites for inclusion, and called on the Commission to suspend EU aid payments to them.

Today's conference coincided with international biodiversity day, organised by the UN to highlight the 1992 convention. It appealed to governments, businesses and travellers to prevent the global spread of non-native species through trade and tourism, calling the phenomenon "the biggest threat to biodiversity after habitat destruction."

Follow Up:
Conference organised by Institute for European Environment Policy, tel: +44 20 7799 2244. Further information on the EU biodiversity website; WWF, tel: +32 2 743 8800, plus letter and briefing; UN biodiversity convention (www.biodiv.org), and {press release}.

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