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Anger over ‘less ambitious’ agreement on European fisheries

European politicians have watered down ambitious plans to place fisheries on a more scientific basis, drawing the ire of conservationists.

Many scientists say that Europe’s fishing fleets catch too many fish and are dangerously depleting the levels of many species. Attempts to reform the European Union (EU) common fisheries policy (CFP), which controls much of the continent’s fishing, looked to have taken a major step forward earlier this year with a draft proposal that would increase sustainability (see ‘European fisheries reform stumbles forward‘). But yesterday Europe’s fisheries ministers took a step backwards on a crucial part of the reform.

At a meeting in Luxembourg, ministers from EU member states agreed on a general approach for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, which will succeed a current a billion-Euro pot of money for subsiding and modernizing fishing. UK fisheries minister Richard Benyon said that the agreement, which is not yet public, would channel money to research projects and new fishing gear that would help Europe’s fishermen move towards sustainability.

But conservationists reacted angrily to the meeting outcome, and the European Commissioner for fisheries Maria Damanaki admitted that the meeting “agreed a compromise which is less ambitious than what we have proposed”. Chief among the complaints is that yesterday’s agreement will continue to funnel money to initiatives that actually increase fishing, such as paying for new engines and the scrapping of old boats (which may then be immediately replaced by new, more efficient ones).

“Wasting taxpayers’ money on what causes the problem in the first place is ridiculous: it is like paying someone to rob you,” said Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director, in a statement. “Taxpayers’ money would be much better spent to protect marine life, improve data collection on fish stocks, and to better monitor the fishing fleet.”

The European Commission’s original proposal on CFP reform still has to be debated by the European Parliament, where another fierce row is likely to ensue, before a compromise text agreed by the ministers, Commission and Parliament is settled.

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