Inspired by the touching stories of the small low impact fishers around the globe being impacted by monster boats, I recently decided to look into the definition of environmental justice. While I discovered that there is no universally accepted term, there is a general acceptance that it revolves around local, low income communities being disproportionally subjected to higher levels of environmental risks and it usually involves social conflicts over resource sharing. It was also very interesting to read that environmental justice can only be achieved when everyone has equal access to the decision- making process to have a healthy environment in which they live and work.
These lines have definitely rung a bell as they so accurately describe what is wrong in the European fisheries. Let us examine some of the best examples. Is it just that one single monster, the Dutch Cornelis Vrolijk, holds 23% of the English quota and about 6% of the entire fishing quota for the UK, while 5.000 traditional UK fishing families with small boats are marginalized holding just the 4% of the whole UK quota between them? Is it just that five vessels hold 20% of the UK quota? Is it fair that low impact fishers, making up approximately 80% of the fleet, get only 4% of the “pie”?
And what about the Swedish monster, the Atlantic? Was it fair that it received 170.000 Euros in indirect subsidies due to tax exemption of fuel, while fishing in Bratten, a vulnerable Natura 2000 site? Are the Danish small scale fishers equally treated when they receive only 5% of the quota, but represent 72% of the vessels, while 105 vessels (only 15% of the fleet) enjoy the profits from catching 90% of the fish?
I realize that overfishing in Europe is first and foremost a matter of injustice, and not just an environmental one. For too long the European fisheries legislation and political system has favored the large scale industrial vessels, giving them more quotas, increasing their catching capacity and subsidizing with public money the depletion of common fish resources. All these to the expense of small fishers and their communities, who have been struggling for years to get their voices heard by politicians, even though they represent 80% of the fishing fleet.
I also realize that L.I.F.E, the new organization of Low Impact Fishers in Europe, has an historical role to restore justice in fisheries as it carries a heavy responsibility, not only of fighting to achieve sustainable fisheries, but also of reestablishing what is morally correct.
Now more than ever, there is an opportunity to achieve this. The new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), for the first time, offers the chance to put an end to overfishing by reducing fleet capacity starting with eliminating the most destructive vessels, and promote access to resources for those engaged in sustainable fishing. Now more than ever, European fisheries ministers must apply these rules.
It is the just thing to do.
Angela Lazou Dean, Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace Greece
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