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For World Oceans Day, Revisit Europe's Fishing Policy

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FISH FARMING
AP

Americans are proud of our achievements and freedoms. We are also, famously, the greatest consumers on the planet. Countries across the globe are now jostling for this title, and here in Europe they are determined to give us a run for our money. They have started with the food on their plates.

You probably don't know about Europe's fish crisis. You may know that global fisheries are struggling (and failing) to keep up with the demands of our fast growing population. But you might assume that the sophisticated Europeans were minding their fish.

Sadly, European waters have been badly overfished.

If Europe does not fix this soon, many of its fish stocks will be driven to the point of no return. Its vessels will increasingly head to foreign waters, to strip out fish stocks there. EU vessels are already doing this in Africa, where local fishermen are left with nothing to catch. They turn to other activities -- in Somalia they became pirates.

What's behind Europe's overfishing? It's not just the rise in demand. The law is also to blame.

The Common Fisheries Policy, Europe's fishing law, is badly dysfunctional. A key failing is to require the "discard" of many of the fish caught -- they are thrown overboard dead. More than half the fish caught in the North Sea are discarded. It's an absurd scene of waste played out every day in European waters. And it's what the law requires.

This year, the Common Fisheries Policy is up for review. Because the law is so bad, this is one of the rare areas in environmental work where all stakeholders agree on the need for radical reform. Encouragingly, there has been a groundswell of campaigns from ordinary Europeans, supporting positive change both to policy and eating habits.

Journalist Charles Clover and the team behind The End of the Line have been pushing these issues up the political and media agenda for years. They have also set up a website telling people which restaurants to go to if they want to eat sustainably caught fish.

The UK Fish Fight campaign to end discards, headed by UK television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has attracted over 680,000 supporters and went Europe-wide last week.

The retail sector is joining: some of the UK's biggest fish retailers have joined ClientEarth's Sustainable Seafood Coalition. On the political scene, a recent motion in the UK Parliament by MP Zac Goldsmith demanding an end to discards was passed unanimously.

These successes open the door to radical reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Europe's politicians now have the task of crafting policies that respect science and marine ecosystems, and make Europe's fishing industry sustainable.

Wednesday, 8 June is World Oceans Day. I will be speaking to politicians from across Europe at a GLOBE forum (part of Project Ocean) in London's Selfridges. The topic is "The State of Europe's Fisheries & Common Fisheries Policy Reform." I'll be talking to them about the issues highlighted here, as well as ClientEarth and the Marine Conservation Society's solution: an alternative to the Common Fisheries Policy called the Fishing Credits System.

It's a strong, workable proposal that secures a future for fish and gives fishers more choice over what they catch.

It's time for our leaders to listen to the swelling number of voices demanding change.

Around the Web

World Oceans Day - the International Day of Ocean Conservation ...

World Ocean Day - The Ocean Project

Overfishing - A global environmental problem, threat to our oceans ...

Overfishing | Greenpeace International

WWF - Poorly managed fishing

Protecting the Ocean -- National Geographic

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