Fischler floats radical reform of Union’s fisheries regime

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Series Details Vol 7, No.11, 15.3.01, p2
Publication Date 15/03/2001
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Date: 15/03/01

By Simon Taylor

FISHERIES chief Franz Fischler next week will propose a sweeping reform of the EU's controversial fisheries policy in a bid to deal with the sector's rapidly dwindling stocks.

In the Green Paper to be discussed by the full European Commission next week, Fischler will recommend radical changes to the existing Common Fisheries Policy, including three-year catch quotas and EU-wide sanctions on fishermen who break the rules.

A Commission official said there was a pressing need for new approaches to fisheries management. "It's obvious that certain tools do not work properly to conserve resources," he argued. "We need to do more and to do it differently."

The Common Fisheries Policy, which has operated since the 1970s, is widely acknowledged to have failed to meet its objectives of conserving stocks to ensure the long-term interests of the industry. This year the Commission acted to close spawning grounds for once-plentiful cod in the North Sea after scientists discovered that the stock was close to collapse after years of overfishing.

Officials say Fischler's paper will highlight the shortcomings of existing policies. One of his key recommendations is to set multi-year quotas that would allow fishermen to plan ahead and make the industry less reliant on ministers' annual horse-trading over quotas every December.

Currently the quotas are only set for one year at a time to allow for the overall amount of fish which can be caught, known as Total Allowable Catches (TACs), to be cut or increased depending on the latest scientific evidence on the state of stocks.

Commission officials say Fischler's other key suggestion will be for a common set of penalties for fishermen who break EU law by exceeding their quota or landing fish illegally.

"Controls are a major problem because we don't have harmonised sanctions throughout the EU," said one. "There is a need to create Community-wide framework for sanctions."

Fishing industry representatives are reacting positively to the suggestion of longer-life quotas. "I think multi-annual TACs would be welcomed if we got away from ritualistic negotiations," said Doug Beveridge, deputy chief executive of the UK's National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations. But he warned that the change would not be enough to tackle the industry's problems.

The Commission is planning to hold consultations with industry and conservation groups on the Green Paper over the next six to eight months before drawing up concrete reform proposals by the end of the year.

Fisheries chief Franz Fischler is to propose a sweeping reform of the EU's controversial fisheries policy in a bid to deal with the sector's rapidly dwindling stocks.

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