Plunder continues as EU fisheries ministers tinker around the edges of reform

Action on the high seas: activists confront EU trawlers in African waters

Press release - March 19, 2012
Brussels/Nouadhibou (Mauritania) - European fisheries ministers meeting in Brussels to discuss the reform of EU fishing rules are expected to ignore the critical imbalance between the bloated size of EU fleets and dwindling stocks, said Greenpeace. Ministers are likely to reach an agreement on how to manage the impact of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy on fishing in foreign waters.

The Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise is currently off the coast of West Africa, near Senegal and Mauritania, where it has been involved in actions to highlight the destructive impact of European overfishing.
Not the Titanic

140-metre long German mega-trawler the Maartje Theadora, fishing 30 miles off the coast of Mauritania in late February. Trawlers like this one can take up to 250 tonnes of fish every day. This has a massive impact on the oceans but also on local communities that depend on fishing.

  ***Pictures and video available on request from the Greenpeace EU press desk: +32 (0)2 274 1911 or

The EU fisheries Council is expected to recognise the right of fishermen in foreign coastal nations to retain priority access to local fishing grounds and to only allow European and other foreign vessels the option of fishing unclaimed quotas within sustainable levels. However, ministers will likely omit any reference to agreed international commitments on the reduction of fleet capacity [1].

Ministers will also debate rules to prohibit the damaging practice of discarding unwanted catches, as well as a new fisheries subsidy regime and common market rules.

The over-exploitation of fish stocks in Europe means that some of the world’s largest fishing vessels need to venture further and deeper to catch fish in large quantities, with devastating impacts on the environment. Super-sized industrial factory ships increasingly compete with local fishermen in the developing world, pushing many communities into poverty.

Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: “Ministers claim they are making progress on European fisheries reform, but they are just pussyfooting around the real problem: there are just too many destructive boats out there and not enough fish for them to catch. The measure of success of fisheries reform will be whether Europe commits to cut the size of its fishing fleet to ease the pressure on the oceans and local fishing communities.”

Feeding frenzy

Crew members lift up a floating device off the coast of Mauritania on 15 March 2012, after activists used it to force Dutch-flagged super-trawler the Dirk Diederik to stop fishing. Earlier in the week, Greenpeace ship the Arctic Sunrise took action against seven giant European trawlers in less than 10 hours.


According to official figures, the EU catches about 1.2 million tonnes of fish per year outside its waters – almost one quarter of its total catch [2]. The Commission reports that 14 EU countries have fishing interests in foreign countries, but over two thirds of these 300 ships fly the Spanish flag (67% of the total) and 14% are from France. While French vessels target tropical tuna, vessels from the Netherlands, Germany and Lithuania focus on small fish species [3].

Last week, in the space of just 10 hours, the Arctic Sunrise came across no fewer than seven EU mega trawlers plundering the ocean’s resources off the coast of Mauritania. While patrolling the area, the Arctic Sunrise also took action against other European and Russian ships taking large quantities of fish.


Notes to editors:

[1] The EU acknowledges that there are simply far too many powerful and destructive vessels for the amount of fish left in the sea. As recently as autumn 2011, the EU joined other countries in the UN General Assembly in a pledge to “urgently reduc[e] the capacity of the world’s fishing fleets to levels commensurate with the sustainability of fish stocks.”

[2] European Commission external fleet study (2008)

[3] European Commission assessment of the CFP



Saskia Richartz – Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director: +32 (0)495 290028,

Mark Breddy – Greenpeace EU communications manager: +32 (0)496 156229,


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