Over the past few weeks, some of Britain’s most high profile chef’s have tackled the issues of unsustainable fisheries across the EU and beyond. While Gordon Ramsay highlighted the issues and inhumanity of the illegal shark finning trade – all destined for the coveted shark fin soup – from locations including Taiwan and Costa Rica; Hugh Feranley-Whittingstall focused his campaign a little closer to home, scrutinising the European Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The campaign, known as The Fish Fight, is calling for reform of the CFP, highlighted the perverse impacts of the discards policy which compels fisherman to throw away fish they have no quota for, whilst pursuing fish that they do.  The CFP, originally introduced to help overfished stocks recover, has done little to achieve this aim, instead heaping further disgrace upon an already exploited industry.

Cod, salmon, tuna and haddock dominate Britain’s fish counters, and chefs Jamie Oliver, and Heston Blumenthal are taking on the battle of diversifying Britain’s tastes from traditional favourites. However, this is unlikely to be effective, unless all the fish sold across Europe is caught using truly sustainable methods. The Marine Stewardship Council offers certification for fish caught in this way, and some of the leading supermarkets and fish companies are slowly moving to gain accreditation. But progress is slow, and time is running out. In 1889, the year records began, we landed 4.3 times more fish into England and Wales than we do today from a fleet made up mainly of small sailing boats.

The CFP divides quotas known as ‘total allowable catches’ between fishermen in European seas. They limit landings at the dock, not what is caught and killed at sea, and therefore it affords little protection to fish stocks. The simple yet devastating effect of this is careless wastage of discarded fish hurled dead back overboard, a continued decline in fish stocks, and wasted fuel and labour.

An interim report by the Inquiry into Future Fisheries Management last year found that the CFP suffers “systematic failures” and requires urgent reform.

Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, welcomed the report, adding: “No-one should under-estimate the real urgency for a major overhaul of the Common Fisheries Policy. There must be greater regional control of fisheries management and a transfer of responsibility to those best able to exercise it.”

Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2012 needs to focus more directly on the issue of promoting recovery of fish stocks and safeguarding endangered species. A discard policy needs to be replaced with quotas on fish caught, and not landed, and restrictions on time spent fishing. The EU needs to take a more proactive role in restricting fishing in some areas to protect endangered species, and more regional autonomy for overfished areas might be more appropriate. In support of this, a campaign to diversify the type of fish we consume across Europe will be fundamental in ensuring that there are plenty more fish in the sea.

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