Read our COVID-19 research and news.

Changing tide. The European Parliament voted to spend less on modernizing Europe's fishing fleet and more on data collection.

Changing tide. The European Parliament voted to spend less on modernizing Europe's fishing fleet and more on data collection.

Wikimedia Commons

E.U. Parliament Confirms Intentions to Crack Down on Overfishing

Scientists and environmental groups have welcomed a European Parliament vote that they say will help curb overfishing. The vote, which took place in Strasbourg, France, today, fleshes out how the Parliament wants to spend the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), a public aid package worth €6.5 billion in the next 7 years.

The EMFF puts in practice—and in budget figures—the intentions laid out in the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The CFP was revamped earlier this year, in particular to ban discards of unwanted fish and to rely more on scientific data and principles to set sustainable catch limits. According to the European Commission, 80% of Mediterranean stocks and 47% of Europe's Atlantic stocks are overfished, compared with only 21% in the United States.

Today, the Parliament said that the European Union should spend more money on data collection, controls, and enforcement than the commission had proposed, and less on modernizing Europe's fleet, which would lead to a higher fishing capacity. “The Parliament refused to go back in time and reintroduce fleet renewal aid” that the European Union had phased out in 2002, adds Markus Knigge, an adviser to the Pew Charitable Trusts in Brussels.

At least €716 million should be spent on data collection and €690 million on control and enforcement, the Parliament decided—an increase of 100% and 45% respectively compared with the commission's 2011 proposal. This increase would be offset by a 13% decrease to the remaining budget for the development of fisheries.

The Parliament's decision is in line with a recent plea made by a group of marine scientists, which called on members of the European Parliament to cut down on aid that encourages overfishing, including fuel subsidies and funds to build or modernize boats. “These subsidies produce such strong economic incentives to overfish that reducing them is one of the most significant actions that can be taken to combat overfishing,” the 14 researchers wrote in an open letter, released last week by an ocean conservation nongovernmental organization called Oceana and signed online by 186 more scientists. “Instead public money should be spent for the public benefit and focussed on control of compliance with management rules, data collection, scientific research and stock assessments.”

Philippe Cury, who leads the Centre for Mediterranean and Tropical Fisheries Research at the Institute of Research for Development in Sète, France, says it's time to put an end to subsidies that lead to overexploitation. “I'm not against subsidies, but they have to help making fisheries sustainable,” says Cury, who signed the letter as well. Instead of rebuilding and revamping boats, Europe should rethink and improve fishing methods and technology, Cury adds. “We need gear that's more selective, boats that consume less fossil fuels, slow fishing methods that adapt to natural cycles and let fish stocks recover.”

Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace's European fisheries policy specialist in Brussels, says the overall reform goes in the right direction, as it makes more money available than before for a broader spectrum of fishing practices—including small-scale, coastal fishing. The plan also puts the emphasis on training, research and data collection, says Richartz, as Europe lacks adequate data for about half of its fish stocks. Unlike North America, European fisheries mostly rely on catch data that are often biased. Regular, independent stock assessments are needed instead, Cury says.

The Parliament also approved so-called conditionality rules: If fishermen are caught infringing CFP rules—for instant using illegal gear, overfishing, or illegally discarding low-value fish—they will not receive subsidies.

It's not the end of the road for the reform, however: The Parliament must now negotiate the package with member states and the European Commission. The plan was meant to come into force in January 2014, but will likely be delayed by a few months at least.