With the eurozone financial crisis dominating headlines across Europe, it’s easy to overlook that we’re also at a vital stage in EU fisheries reform – with critical discussions by EU fishing ministers in June on the future of the much derided Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
These decisions will impact on Shetland fishermen – and those across the whole of the EU. Some good progress has been made by the European Commission, such as work towards the eventual elimination of fish discards, which Scotland has pressed hard for. Dumping marketable fish dead overboard is a shocking waste of a valuable food resource and one of the biggest failings of the deeply flawed CFP.
But with a policy that stretches from high-tech pelagic trawlers of the Atlantic to artisan anchovy fishers in the Mediterranean, it’s no surprise it’s been challenging to develop solutions that all countries can sign up to.
The fact is that in the Common Fisheries Policy there is precious little common ground – and even less common sense. As a consequence we are yoked to a policy that represents the lowest common denominator.
Fortunately, one key reform proposal still remains on the table – to move fisheries management decisions away from Brussels and replace it with more regionalised and local control. Scotland has been at the forefront of promoting this approach, essential if we are to solve the damaging “one size fits all” approach of the CFP.
Regionalisation taps in to local knowledge and experience and is flexible enough to meet the changing needs of the marine environment – something the current CFP simply cannot do. The principle is strongly supported by fishermen and environmentalists alike. It’s a no-brainer for the better management of our seas.
Despite this clear case there are concerns that vested interests may seek to neuter this most significant plank of reform. For all their warm words, there are some within the Commission and the European Parliament who would probably prefer the dead hand of Brussels to keep our fishing communities tightly within their grasp.
That’s why I’m fully committed to doing all I can to ensure greater regional control is a key feature in a reformed CFP. We have lobbied the UK government strenuously on this issue – and as a member state the UK must press the case for genuine regionalisation.
Without radical decentralisation of the CFP the reform process will have failed. The UK in particular must make this a priority or will have failed fisheries conservation and our fishing communities. The CFP reform process is therefore a big test for the UK government and, indeed, all governments.
We cannot condemn Scotland’s industry to another decade of disappointment and hardship. That is the prospect we face if inaction, suspicion and fear stop meaningful reforms in how Europe manages its seas.