EU ponder scrapping fish catch limits

Europe’s fisheries chief today suggested scrapping annual catch limits – the backbone of the controversial Common Fisheries Policy for a quarter of a century.

The radical move would free up fishermen to catch as much fish as they want, unshackled from catch quotas but governed instead by an annual allowance of “days at sea” for each vessel.

The idea was put to MEPs in Brussels by EU Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg, who last April launched a “consultation” on the CFP’s future, declaring: “We are questioning even the fundamentals of the current policy.”

Today he said that one answer could be to drop catch allowances altogether and manage fish stocks by only regulating fishing “effort” – the number of days vessels can spend at sea. Ending quotas would tackle the problem of “discards” - throwing dead fish back into the sea to avoid breaking quota limits.

“Replacing TACs and quotas by effort can be a very effective way of reducing the environmental impact of fisheries, and in particular of discards” insisted Mr Borg.

He told MEPs that they might find his idea “somewhat alarming”, but the present system was failing to deliver a profitable industry or a sustainable fishery.

At the moment a mix of limits on catches and days at sea is in force, but if quotas were scrapped the whole policy would hinge on the carve-up of days at sea between boats, which would be transferable if the skipper wished.

“Every vessel would receive an allowance in days at sea, which the vessel owners would manage throughout the year.

“The idea here is that the skipper can land all catches. This would be interesting for mixed fisheries since it would greatly reduce discards. It would also take away any reason to falsely declare catches and would be easier to control.”

Mr Borg said a vessel owner could decide to either use his “effort” rights himself or to rent them or sell them to another vessel owner: “This could in turn help us to achieve the objective of having a smaller fleet commensurate to our resource base.” he said, adding: “For some, this may be radical thinking, but we need to explore every option if we are to make our fisheries policy truly fit for purpose.”

The current CFP “consultation”, involving governments and representatives of national fishing industries and local communities, is due to continue until the end of the year.

The Commission has routinely blamed fishing fleets for overfishing, and governments for failing to enforce catch quota limits agreed annually in a share-out of available stocks between EU governments.

The result has been seriously-depleted fish stocks despite years of promises to fishing fleets that conservation measures would boost their fortunes.

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