During the last five years, hundreds of thousands of you joined us in calling on Europe’s politicians to both protect our seas from overfishing and to create new laws that support fair and sustainable fishing. And together, we did it!
Thanks to your support for our campaign, in 2013 the EU agreed a new set of fishing rules, requiring member states to end overfishing and to promote a shift towards low-impact fishing. Governments must now inform the public of the specific criteria they use when deciding how to distribute the annual fishing quotas amongst members of the fishing industry. And that’s not all – they must now take into account the environmental, social and economic consequences of different fishing methods, before allocating fishing quotas to potentially harmful fishing activities.
This is great news, and I’ll tell you why: up to now, EU governments have effectively and unfairly privatised access to fishing opportunities by allowing a concentration of quota ownership in the hands of a few and by promoting the rise of monster boats.
The new rules provide the means to turn this unfair situation on its head: low impact small-scale fishermen across Europe, who have been struggling to make ends meet, should be given preferential access to fishing quota, because they choose to fish in ways that are the least environmentally damaging. Low-impact fishing includes methods like fishing with nets that are left anchored to the seafloor, fish traps and hooks and lines. On the other hand, those using destructive means, such as bottom trawlers with a high impact on the seafloor, and various unselective fishing practices that catch unwanted species, should in turn be penalised by restricting their access to fishing opportunities.
This complete reversal of how quotas are allocated will not only benefit our seas, it also makes complete socio-economic sense, because small-scale fishing is generally more community-based, and generates more jobs and social wellbeing for every fish caught than the industrial scale fleet. We are hoping that this new quota regime will help European coastal communities to flourish.
These changes are not optional, as the new rules bind governments to change how they distribute the quota, for the better. But – and yes, there’s a “but” – EU governments have so far been pretty quiet about their actions in moving towards this new quota allocation. So, Greenpeace asked around to find out where the quota is going this year.
And guess what; many EU governments appear to be ignoring the new rules, distributing quota as if it is business as usual.
So we have started to take action to challenge this inaction.
On 23 January, Greenpeace UK lodged a legal case over the British government’s decision to continue to give significant levels of quota to industrial fishing corporations, at the expense of local, low impact fishermen.
Our lawyers are arguing that this decision contravenes the new EU fisheries law which requires EU member states to set out criteria that they will use to decide how quota will be allocated to fishing interests.
Nina Thuellen is the fisheries project leader for Greenpeace in Europe.
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