Fisheries Council locked out, ought to be sacked

Feature story - 17 December, 2007
The European Fisheries Council ought to be sacked. That was one message from 200 Greenpeace activists from 14 European countries this morning when they blocked the seven entrances to the EU building where the Fisheries Council was due to meet to determine catch levels for 2008.

Underwater banner reading "Marine Reserves Now!" next to octopus in Menorca, Spain. Greenpeace is calling for a global network of marine reserves covering 40 percent of the world's oceans.

If the European Fisheries Council were a private enterprise, its executive directors would have been sacked long ago for inefficiency and negligence. The Council has failed to ensure fishing sector profitability, environmental protection, sustainable management, or the maintenance of fish stocks. "It's time for new management," said Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Iris Menn.

The activists constructed a  wall in front of the building's main entrance bearing the message "Shut Down until Fish Stocks Recover."  But in all likelihood, the Fisheries Council will simply again cave in to pressure from the fishing industry, ignore the warnings of scientists, and encourage the fisheries industry to continue fishing itself to death.

The Council's consistently dismal record provides no basis for expecting that this year's negotiations will introduce steps towards environmentally-sustainable fisheries in which biodiversity and fish stocks are maintained. And an environmentally unsustainable fishery is not an economically sustainable fishery.


The Fisheries Council decides levels of total allowable catches (TACs) on an annual basis.  We believe that Europe's current decision-making arrangements are in need of a fundamental overhaul.

"The Fisheries Council has been an utter disaster for fisheries," said Greenpeace EU Marine Policy Advisor Saskia Richartz. "Unless changes are made and power is ceded to Europe's Environment Ministers, Europe's fisheries face a biodiversity and economic collapse."

Since the early 1980s, incompetence on the part of the Fisheries Council has resulted in an alarming decline in fish stocks in European seas. Year after year, Europe´s Fisheries Ministers have ignored scientific advice and recommendations from the European Commission in repeatedly agreeing levels of TACs that have destroyed the health of fisheries and the biodiversity of Europe's seas. A recent study, commissioned by the European Commission's Directorate-General for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, suggests that European fisheries are amongst the most unsustainable and least profitable in the world.

We believe that future decisions on fishing activities in European seas should be subject to greater public scrutiny,  and must include the following:

  • Member States must create a network of large-scale marine reserves: highly protected areas off-limits to all extractive and destructive activities, including fishing. The network of reserves must be sufficiently large to sustain species and ecological processes over time. Research indicates that between 20 per cent and 50 per cent of sea area should be protected in this way. The deadline by which Member States had to complete such a network passed almost a decade ago, in 1998. Member States, however, have continued to reap short term fisheries benefits without complying with the Community's conservation laws;
  • All total allowable catches must be set at or below the scientifically recommended levels. For all fish stocks outside safe biological limits, fishing pressure must be reduced to very low levels and should be increased slowly thereafter only when recovery is under way. All stocks should eventually be managed below their maximum sustainable yield; and
  • Starting from next year, national allocation of the TACs, which must be set in accordance with the above rules, should be made conditional upon meeting EU marine conservation standards, and in particular rules on marine protected areas.

At around 11:30 CET, all two hundred activists were arrested and the wall demolished by Belgian police.  The Fisheries Council will no doubt carry on -- not doing their jobs.

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