EU seeks big cut in fishing fleet to help stocks

The European Commission says fleet overcapacity remains the "fundamental problem" of the industry.

fisherman blockade 248 (photo credit: )
fisherman blockade 248
(photo credit: )
The European Commission on Wednesday will seek a drastic cut in the EU's 90,000-strong fishing fleet to ensure that fish stocks don't collapse further - a move sure to ignite a new, heated battle with the fishing industry. Only last week, French fishermen created travel chaos by blockading several English Channel ports to protest EU fishing quotas for sole and cod. EU calls to cut fishing fleets themselves could well be met with equal resistance. The European Union's executive body will recommend cuts in what it calls bloated and over-subsidized fishing fleets when it publishes a report Wednesday on Europe's fishing future. The Associated Press obtained a draft of the new EU fisheries policy ahead of its release. Despite years of overfishing and increasingly dwindling stocks, fleets across Europe have largely remained stable at about 90,000 boats. In the draft proposal, the Commission says fleet overcapacity remains the "fundamental problem" of the industry and that "a dramatic change" is needed to keep fishermen in business and help fish stocks to rebound. That would drastically affect such key fishing nations like Spain, Italy, France, Greece and Britain. Spain has the biggest fleet when it comes to tonnage, but its 11,350 boats are still outmatched by Greece, which has 17,350, and Italy with 13,700. France, which traditionally is at the forefront of industrial action against EU fishing restrictions, has almost 8,000 boats. In specific pockets on the Atlantic coast, such as France's Boulogne or Spain's Vigo, fishing has been a way of life for decades and any cuts would be most severely felt there. After years of haggling over ever-dwindling quotas for cod, sole and tuna, the EU Commission wants to change the industry from the top by cutting the number of vessels that set off for ever fewer fish. However, its proposal offers no specific figures on how much or when fleets across Europe should be reduced. In some areas, fishing stocks have been reduced to only 10 percent of postwar records. The draft says 93% of the cod in the North Sea are now caught before they can spawn, contributing to the decline. On top of imposing quotas, the EU is also setting measures to cut down on illegal fishing and landing undeclared fish. Despite government subsidies that continue to fuel the excessive fishing effort, the EU fishing industry remains one mired in losses or small profits at best. The Commission proposals now need to be studied by industry, environmental groups and marine scientists before they will be discussed and decided on by the EU member states, a process that can take years. "We cannot continue to postpone the adoption of measures," said Xavier Pastor, the executive director of the environmental group Oceana. The EU already reformed the fisheries industry in 2002 but failed to turn around the dire fishing situation.