EU fishing fiasco: Commission turns on MEPs and fishermen as feud erupts after demands

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In a note to European Parliament members, Ursula von der Leyen’s team warned that amendments voted by MEPs in a text on fisheries control could lead to “massive overfishing”. The Commission said the move could lead to the “deterioration of fish stocks” in the bloc.

The EU lawmakers are asking the Commission to change the so-called margin of error percentage on fishing quotas from 10 percent to 20 percent for small pelagic fisheries, such as herring, sprats and maker, and to 25 percent for tuna species.

One of the keystones of the EU Common Fisheries Policy is the recording of the quantities of fish caught by species.

These quantities must be recorded, at the time of the catches, by the captain of the vessel, in the “logbook,” which is now digital – despite being estimates.

At the port, in case of a check, authorities compare the quantities actually landed with those recorded in the logbook.

Fishermen have so far benefitted from a margin of error of 10 percent, lowered from 20 percent in 2009.

The Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius, warned: “The higher the tolerance, the greater the risk of underreporting, undermining the health of our fish stocks.”

In a bid to defuse tensions between the Parliament and the Commission, MEPs Clara Aguilera and Pierre Karleskind proposed a compromise.

The idea would be to keep the 10 percent tolerance margin, but to apply it to the entire volume of fish caught and no longer to each species.

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An apparent compromise, which does not convince the executive.

For Vivian Loonela, spokeswoman for the European Commission for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, “a tolerance margin for all catches and no longer by species would be even more dangerous for fish stocks subject to quotas, in the context of a mixed fishery such as the tropical tuna purse seine fishery.”

She added: “Very dangerous proposition.”

The row escalated when European fishing industry body Europêche sent a strongly worded message to Commissioner Sinkevičius, making plain that it is not acceptable for the Commission to portray its own fishing industry as illegal predators and structural rule-breakers.

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According to Europêche, the Commission’s position unfairly puts into question the EU fleet’s overall good compliance record, damages the image of the sector, lacks empathy with fishing people and connection with the realities of fisheries.

In addition, the note sent to MEPs clearly interferes with the independent co-legislator role of the European Parliament.

Europêche managing director Daniel Voces said that beyond the content of the note that he claims contains half-truths and apocalyptic statements not based on factual data, what is most shocking to Europêche is the note seems to be aimed only at a reduced group of like-minded MEPs without any specialised fisheries-related interests, with the apparent sole goal of generating political support and momentum to crush the Parliamentary position democratically adopted by the Members of the PECH Committee.

He said: “EU fishers and their organisations wish to have a continued constructive partnership with the European Commission, but this seems increasingly difficult when DG MARE considers and describes its own industry as a destructive force.”

He added that Europêche perceives this attitude as fuelling an increasing anti-EU sentiment within the fishing industry.

He said that these unfounded allegations add up to the long list of existing problems that the EU fishing industry must already cope with and for which it needs the political support of the European Commission and its Fisheries Commissioner.

The Brexit outcome, the implementation of the post-Brexit situation in the North Sea and the North East Atlantic, the spatial claims on fishing grounds by renewable energy and marine protected areas as well as the on-going market impact of Covid-19.

In light of the above, Europêche urged the Commission to stop casting a shadow of suspicion on the sector and its compliance as a whole as well as to respect the democratic decisions adopted by specialised Parliamentary Committees.

Mr Votes added: “The debate on complex and technical issues, such as the control regulation, should be done in a transparent manner and always seeking the outcome of rational policies which, in the end, will have to be applied by fishers.”

Additional reporting by Maria Ortega

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