On the 1st of January 2012, the EU presidency passed from Poland to Denmark; at the same time the reform of the European Common Fishery Policy entered a crucial phase, the final stage of the reform which should result in a new fisheries regulation by this time next year.
The good news is that Denmark seems to be taking a still more progressive role in the matter of reforming how we are fishing. As the oceans face their deepest crisis ever, Denmark is in a leading position to help make fishing more sustainable and end the era of unmitigated plundering of the sea. Be warned, big bloated European fishing fleet: the ‘big is beautiful’ hype might be over.
This is not coming a moment too soon; our oceans are in trouble. Two thirds of the North Atlantic fish stocks are overfished and almost a quarter of all catches are wasted, thrown back into the sea - dead or dying. This means that that not only is marine world on the road to disaster, but also a fishing industry in dire trouble, with smaller and smaller catches and an uncertain future ahead.
According to the European Commission, overcapacity of the fleet is the main reason why the European seas are so heavily overfished.
In short, overcapacity means that there are simply too many vessels, which are too big and too ‘ efficient’. It is estimated that the EU fleet is capable of catching two to three times more fish than the stocks are capable of naturally replacing.
When Denmark holds the EU presidency, one of their newly published priorities is to “address the question of balance between fleet size (capacity) and fishing opportunities”
So, finally one of the main problems in the management of our oceans is being addressed. Overcapacity has been a problem for years, but neither the commission nor the member states have put in place measures to get rid of the excess vessels.
That the Danish minister of fisheries, Mette Gjerskov, has identified overcapacity as a top priority for the presidency is of utmost importance. But it is far from enough. Gjerskov will need to work hard to get policy and measures in place that will mean a real change on the water, and she needs support of other progressive countries. And they all need to withstand the enormous pressure from the industrial fishing associations and powerful countries like Spain, that will use all their diplomatic muscles to water out even the most modest proposals for sustainability that are been presented.
Size does matter! Both in terms of the EU fleet and when it comes to the size of countries in the internal negotiations. Denmark will not be alone and laggards must be named and blamed. The importance of the financial- and economic crisis will take much of the attention. We will do all we can to push, encourage and hold Denmark to fulfil their priorities. Fingers crossed that Denmark will walk the talk and rise to the challenge.
Hanne Lyng Winter is a marine biologist for Greenpeace Nordic in Denmark