Eco-Friendly Labeling Could Help EU Fisheries Crisis

LONDON, United Kingdom, December 28, 2000 (ENS) - Europe's fishermen should be given financial incentives to adopt less damaging catch techniques says an independent report into the current fisheries crisis.

Scientists at the International Center for Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have warned that cod and whiting in the North Sea and to the west of Scotland are in severe danger of collapse. The Northern hake population in the European Union's western waters is also at risk.

Fischler

Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler. (Photo courtesy European Commission)
Two weeks ago, the European Commission made drastic cuts in fishing quotas to protect populations close to collapse.

"There is no way round it: to have a fishing industry we need fish," said Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler, announcing cuts of up to 74 percent in total allowable catches (TAC).

The collapse in fish populations has its roots in factory trawlers - large commercial fishing vessels generally greater than 150 feet and greater than 1,000 gross tons. Using trawl nets, they catch, process and freeze fish at sea.

Their capacity to harvest huge amounts of fish does not generally discriminate between the sought after fish and juvenile species - caught indirectly and discarded.

The London-based Institute for European environmental policy (IEEP) says the European Union should be looking at program of financial incentives to encourage more sustainable fishing practices.

In a report released last week, the IEEP argues that incentives similar to those agreed under the 1992 review of the common agricultural policy could alleviate the fisheries crisis.

trawler

A factory trawler at work. (Photo courtesy Greenpeace)
The IEEP is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to the analysis and development of European environmental policy, and environmental aspects of other policies such as transport, agriculture, fisheries and regional development.

An agri-fishery program would increase the coherence between European Union fisheries and environmental policies, particularly the 1992 habitats directive and its network of protected sites, says the IEEP report.

The authors point out that EU attempts to promote sustainability have focused almost entirely on regulatory measures to reduce fishing effort, while ignoring financial incentives.

Such incentives could include funding for a marketing scheme for eco-labeled fish caught with more environmentally friendly equipment. Even the thickness of twine used in fishing nets can affect the amount of juvenile fish caught indirectly and discarded.

Square meshed panels in trawl nets used to catch white fish were introduced to the Scottish fishing fleet this year. The panels make it easier for young fish to escape from trawls.

A plan launched this year to rebuild cod populations in the Irish Sea involved closing areas to fishermen during the spawning season from February 14 to April 30. Technical measures to enable young fish to escape from trawl nets were implemented.

fish

White fish are ever popular on the plate but harder to find in the North Sea. (Photo courtesy Croan Seafoods, Edinburgh)
The IEEP study surveys what little agri-fishery funding has taken place, including details of schemes in the Netherlands, Ireland, United Kingdom, Spain, Italy and Greece. It concludes that an EU-wide agri-fishery program is needed and says a forthcoming review of the EU common fisheries policy (CFP) scheduled for completion by the end of 2002, offers the best opportunity for its creation.

It suggests that until then, national fisheries should be encouraged to apply for funds under existing schemes operated by the environment and fisheries directorates of the European Commission.

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