EU commissioner predicts total ban on cod, haddock and whiting catches in UK waters next year
Andrew Osborn in Brussels Tuesday October 29, 2002 Courtesy of The Guardian
The European commission yesterday admitted it is facing its gravest fishing crisis to date and said it would have little choice but to propose a total ban on fishing for cod, haddock and whiting in British coastal waters next year.
Arguing it had just received its gloomiest prognosis yet on the state of fish stocks, Brussels said its worst fears had been realised and signalled that what some critics have called "the doomsday scenario" is now all but inevitable.
"I don't want to say I told you so," said the EU fisheries commissioner, Franz Fischler. "But it is galling after repeatedly warning of the dire consequences of inaction to see our worst fears realised and to now be faced with recommendations for a moratorium on some cod fisheries.
"We now have to recognise that the state of these stocks has never been worse." Mr Fischler's outburst comes less than a week after EU scientists handed him a report which concluded that stocks of white fish are on the verge of collapse. Only a total ban on cod catches would stave off extinction, it warned.
Fishermen's leaders warned at the time that such measures would spell the end of the white fish industry, put 20,000 jobs at risk and devastate numerous coastal communities, but, according to Mr Fischler, there are no other options.
"I can see no other solution in the short term than to propose for 2003 a zero total allowable catch for cod, haddock and whiting and substantial reductions for plaice and nephrops," he said. "This is the most dramatic warning we've ever received. I'm very sorry for the fish themselves and in particular for the people who fish these stocks."
There would, he conceded, be "a tremendous impact" on fishing communities in Scotland and Ireland, but Mr Fischler laid the blame firmly at the door of countries like Britain, which he said had tolerated overfishing for years and had failed to clamp down on fraudulent reporting of catches. He said the commission would do all it could to help fishermen weather the crisis and had set aside EU money "to mitigate against the social consequences of restructuring".
Signalling that it was time to draw a line in the sand and that the priority had to be to regenerate cod stocks, he launched an attack upon fishermen's leaders who advocate giving up on cod altogether. "Some representatives of the fishing sector say rather cynically that we should forget cod altogether because it's too late and that we should start fishing for other species instead." Such rhetoric was totally unacceptable, he said.
The fishing of cod and other species are closely linked because fishermen trawling for other types of fish often inadvertently net cod, which is why it is necessary to ban fishing for other types of fish as well. The stage is now set for a mammoth clash between Mr Fischler and EU member states such as Britain, who are due to haggle over the extent of catch cuts at a Brussels meeting in December.
The first volleys of that battle were fired yesterday when Neil Parish, a Tory MEP, took up cudgels for the fishermen and warned that Mr Fischler's plan would be devastating if implemented. "It is rather rich of Commissioner Fischler to blame EU governments for the problem," he said. "The common fisheries policy has been far too slow to reform and in fact is the root cause of many of fishing's current woes.
"A 100% cut is completely unacceptable and will spell the ruination of fishing in the North and Irish seas, not to mention the loss of thousands of jobs in the fishing industry."