The European Union parliament on Wednesday pushed for a drastic reform of fishing policy in a landmark vote seeking to end decades of overfishing that have decimated many of the stocks in Atlantic and Mediterranean EU waters.
Under the parliament's plan, there would also be a legally binding obligation to end overfishing and rebuild stocks, stop aid to member states that flout the rules and make catch reporting requirements much tougher. Parliament and EU Fisheries Commissioner Damanaki will now negotiate these issues directly with EU member states over the coming months, hoping to draw fishing nations like Spain and France into the new system.
The broad backing by the legislature was welcomed by EU fisheries chief Maria Damanaki as a vital breakthrough for "an ambitious reform." Even the oft-critical environmental groups joined in lauding the outcome.
"This is a historic vote," said Uta Bellion of The Pew Charitable Trusts, underscoring the remarkable change in vision the steady depletion of some of the world richest fishing grounds had forced onto politicians.
The Eurostat agency released statistics showing that catches declined from 8.07 million tons in 1995 to 4.94 million tons in 2010 as stocks of fish such as cod and Bluefin tuna dwindled dramatically. Quotas for fishermen also became more restrictive to reflect the dearth of supplies.
North Sea stocks of cod, the emblematic fish in the Atlantic EU waters, declined by three quarters over three decades and special campaigns to revive the species have long struggled. Bluefin tuna, once the pride of the Mediterranean, has seen stocks drop by 80 percent over the same time.
Now, parliament still has to negotiate with EU member states to get a final agreement in the coming months, but officials insisted Wednesday's vote already marked a major change after decades of overfishing and mismanagement.
Recent statistics show that EU catches have declined by almost 40 percent in 15 years. Now, even environmentalists are seeing the potential for a turnaround after the 27-nation legislature backed the reform proposal in a 502-137 vote, with 27 abstentions.
"This vote signals a momentous shift away from overfishing," Greenpeace expert Saskia Richartz said.
Under the current rules, EU nations could, and did, easily ignore scientific advice on how much fish could be caught from ever more depleted fishing grounds. Fish was thrown overboard if it did not meet quotas or fishermen's preferences, creating a huge waste of for the ecosystem and business alike. Discarding is estimated at 23 percent of total catches.
Damanaki was especially grateful for "a policy that introduces a discard ban with clear dates to put an end to wasteful practices that we can no longer afford."