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Page last updated at 00:26 GMT, Monday, 25 May 2009 01:26 UK

EU begins fisheries policy review

By Chris Mason
BBC News, Brussels

North Sea cod fish (archive)
The EU wants to cut the size of fleets and the time fishermen spend at sea.

European Union fisheries ministers are in Brussels to review rules on how much fish can be caught in EU waters.

The EU's executive, the European Commission, says more than 80% of Europe's fish stocks are now overfished. The global average is 28%.

The current Common Fisheries Policy, which sets quotas, aims to ensure Europe has a sustainable fishing industry and sustainable fish stocks.

It is widely accepted the current annual quotas have failed.

Targeting 'discards'

The European Commission itself admits the situation created by overfishing is "serious" - and yet in the last decade thousands of trawlermen across Europe have been forced to give up, many blaming European regulations for driving them out of business.

So EU member states are now being asked for their input on a new fisheries policy - one which officials here promise will be radically different from the existing one.

A central aim is to minimise so-called "discarding" - throwing fish back to sea, dead or alive, because quotas have already been reached.

EU Fisheries Policy
Common Fisheries Policy was established in 1983
EU fisheries policy last reformed in 2002
EU fishing fleet is second largest power after China.
In 2006 EU imported 3 times as much fisheries products as it exported

The Danish Fisheries Minister Eva Kjer Hansen says quotas should not be based on how much fish is brought back to shore, but how much is caught in the first place.

And she has told the BBC she hopes a pilot scheme she has overseen will be adopted across the EU.

"We have a project with cameras on board the boats. It is a monitoring system that allows the fishermen to document the fishery," Ms Hansen says.

"You can clearly see what kind of fish are being caught and you can control what they are bringing back to land," she explains.

Six Danish vessels, equipped with cameras since September 2008, are said to be successfully operating this scheme.

It is hoped the project will help end discards, encourage fishermen to only target the fish they want and provide scientists with precise data on which to base their advice on stock numbers.

For every kilogram of cod that was taken back to port from the North Sea in 2007 another kilogram was thrown back - mostly dead, according to the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea.

'Opportunity for change'

A spokesman for the UK government says the focus for its delegation will be to argue for less "micro management from Brussels" and more responsibility for the industry.

Fishermens' leaders are welcoming the opportunity for change, but accept it will take time.

We need to think about re-scaling the Common Fisheries Policy, giving more of a focus at a regional level and then transferring responsibility to the industry
UK fishermens' group

"We have a relatively small bureaucracy in Brussels managing an enormous range of fisheries of great diversity across 40 degrees of latitude," the chief executive of the National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations for England, Wales and Northern Ireland says.

Barry Deas continues: "That simply doesn't work - it hasn't worked."

"So we need to think about re-scaling the Common Fisheries Policy, giving more of a focus at a regional level and then transferring responsibility to the industry - treat the industry in an adult way," Mr Deas suggests.

Environmentalists will also be keen to ensure their voice is heard in the discussions here.

Greenpeace say the very fact these talks are happening proves European fisheries policy is "rotten to the core and the EU knows it".

The environmental pressure group suggests Europe's fishing fleet needs to halve.

Graph of fish decline.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermens' Federation, accepts there is plenty of debating ahead.

"Rather like manufacturing an aeroplane, unavoidably this is going to be quite complicated," Mr Armstrong says.

"Governing the access of many member states to a shared resource which is perishable and needs protecting - and therefore the access needs to be limited - is just plain hard."

The new European Common Fisheries Policy is due to be completed by 2012.



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