EU vote a ‘landmark’ for future of fishing industry

MEP’S last week voted in favour of major changes to the way the fishing industry is governed, leading the way for a ban on the discarding of fish at sea.

Reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) were backed by 502 votes to 137, with 27 abstentions in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

Speaking following the vote,Scotland’s Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy was badly needed and long overdue so I am pleased that MEPs have voted through these proposals which will finally see an end to the wasteful practice of discarding.

“This vote is a key milestone and provides a sound basis for discussions with the Ministers in the coming weeks. I am looking forward to continuing to fight Scotland’s corner at the fishing council in Europe later this month, especially in terms of ending micromanagement by Brussels of our seas.

“I am determined that we must not squander this once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the reform that our fishing communities need if we are to ensure that both our marine environment and fishing industry can survive and thrive.”

Welcoming the outcome, Scottish Fishermen’s Federation chief executive, Bertie Armstrong, said: “The current CFP is widely acknowledged as being badly over centralised and failing to deliver effective fisheries management.

“We therefore welcome today’s vote in the European Parliament, which is another step on the way to a new and reformed CFP, but it is important to remember that a final agreement has still to be reached among the European institutions, which is likely to take until at least the middle of the year.

“In particular, we welcome the support for the decentralisation of fisheries management. Rather than a centralised ‘one size fits all’ policy, we now have a real opportunity to control our fisheries much more effectively on a regional basis where fishermen, government, scientists and other relevant stakeholders can develop effect management regimes.

“However, there is still no real indication yet of the scale of regional control that will be offered and this is still up for negotiation.

“As far as discards are concerned, no-one hates discarding more than our fishermen but there is concern about how a discards ban would work in practice, given the complex mixed fisheries that our fishing fleet works in.

“There is still, therefore, much to discuss on the operational details of how such a plan would actually work. Scottish fishermen are already pioneering a number of innovative measures in their fishing gear that have dramatically reduced discards and we believe the further adoption and refinement of measures such as these may prove a more effective way forward.”

Wednesday’s vote marked a “seminal and long-overdue landmark” on the road to reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), but there are still enormous hurdles to clear before meaningful change is embedded that will make EU fisheries sustainable in the long-term.

That was the message from Scottish Euro MP and Senior vice-president of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee Struan Stevenson.

“These reforms will wrestle control away from the micro-managers in Brussels who have made such an absolute mess of fisheries policy for the past 30 years. We will also see an urgent timetable set for an absolute ban on the scandal of dumping and discards,” he said.

“The Spanish lobbied hard for an amendment which would have kicked the discards measures far into the long grass. Every vote counted, but I believe the public would never have forgiven MEPs if we had failed to take this opportunity to stop the discards debacle.

“In the end, a significant coalition of support across the political groups from left to right won the day, although, in the famous words of Winston Churchill, ‘This is not the end; it is not even the beginning of the end; it is the end of the beginning’.

“Now we must look toward the vital but torturous round of negotiations between the European Council of Ministers, the European Commission and the European Parliament that will determine common ground before the bill’s Second Reading. Of course, there are still yawning gaps between the various parties on a range of issues. These disputes must be sorted out without delay. Heads need to be knocked together.

“But the vote in Strasbourg was a seminal and long-overdue landmark on the road to reform of the CFP.”

SNP President Ian Hudghton MEP also welcomed the vote as an important step on the road to CFP reform.

“The existing CFP is completely discredited and the ongoing reform is vital for our coastal communities. The one-size-fits-all centralised approach has failed our fishermen and failed Europe’s fish stocks,” he said.

“The European Parliament has thrown its support behind a meaningful return of powers to the individual fishing nations and rejected continued rule by diktat from Brussels.

“The parliament has also completely rejected Commission proposals for fishing rights to become tradable commodities. These proposals would have seen fishing quotas bought and sold on the international markets - and could have seen Scotland’s historic rights swept up by the Spanish fleet.

“The parliamentary vote marks a significant step in fixing the broken system but important work lies ahead. A final deal must now be reached between MEPs and Europe’s fisheries ministers, and there are vested interests who will continue to try to derail the process.

“MEPs from all member states have worked together to keep the process on track and in the coming weeks and months I intend to work along side the Scottish fisheries secretary to ensure the final outcome is satisfactory.

“By returning decision-making closer to home we can tailor fisheries management for local circumstances, bring about an end to discarding and ensure that Scotland has a thriving fishing industry for generations to come.”