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Fishing: Reform must protect all the world's oceans

25 January 2012

New rules are urgently needed to ensure all UK and other EU-flagged fishing boats operating in waters outside of Europe, are operating in a sustainable way and to the same standards as they would back home, said WWF-UK today (Wednesday 25 January).

The conservation group made the call as it published a new study [1] revealing in greater detail how commercial fishing globally has dramatically expanded its areas of operation – to now cover over one-third of the world’s ocean surface - and seriously questioning the sustainablity of this level of exploitation of marine resources.

The report highlighted a number of factors have contributed to this expansion:

• Improved technology and subsidies have made European fleets more mobile than most global fleets since 1980;

• The negotiation of ‘access agreements’ with developing countries (usually African); and

• The practice of re-flagging (where EU boats evade EU rules by adopting a non-EU country’s flag).

With over 700 officially EU-flagged vessels [2] now exploiting fisheries outside of Europe – including some as far away as the Indian Ocean and the southern Atlantic – WWF-UK said it was vital that ongoing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) include measures to ensure all EU-flagged vessels fish sustainably, whevever they operate in the world.

Giles Bartlett, Fisheries Policy Officer at WWF-UK said:

“It may surprise many people to learn that a number of UK-registered boats, along with hundreds of others from across Europe, are operating as far away as the Indian Ocean and south Atlantic to catch fish. With many of Europe’s fish stocks now depleted, improved technology along with subsidies have encouraged a growing number of EU vessels to exploit fishing opportunities across the world.

“We have a unique opportunity to fix the broken Common Fisheries Policy, which has allowed many unsustainable practices to flourish. It is vital any reform guarantees vessels that fish abroad follow the same rules and respect the same sustainablity principles as those operating within EU waters.

“We urge the UK Government to ensure not only our own fleet, but all other EU vessels adopt sustainable practices wherever they operate in the world. If the EU fails to take a leadership role in global fisheries management and ocean protection, it will further contribute to the global fisheries crisis and jeopardise global food security in the long run.”

Notes to the editor

[1] Spatial expansion of EU and non-EU fishing fleets into the global ocean, 1950 to the present. Sea Around Us project, University of British Columbia, 2011. Available now.

The study for WWF has for the first time transposed data about the global expansion of fishing activity, from 1950 to the present, to an animated map - http://wwf.ixtract.de/ . It shows that European vessels are now traveling to the furthest corners of the world to exploit fish stocks. Declining domestic catches and efforts to reduce the number of vessels fishing in European waters have resulted in much of the European tuna and other pelagic fleets concentrating their fishing efforts overseas.

[2] According to the EU, in 2008 the EU external fleet comprised of 718 vessels, which represents 25% of the EU fleet in terms of gross tonnage.
The 718 vessels broken down by Member State:

Spain: 424 (59%)

France: 100 (14%)

Portugal: 73 (10%)

Italy: 52 (7%)

Greece: 18 (3%)

Lithuania: 12 (2%)

Estonia: 10 (1%)

UK: 9 (1%)

Others (Latvia, Germany, Poland, Malta, Denmark, Cyprus): 20 (3%)

Source: http://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/documentation/studies/study_external_fleet/external_fleet_2008_en.pdf

[3] UK vessels operating in non-EU waters:

According to DEFRA, in 2011 the UK had vessels fishing or licenced to fish in third country/external waters as follows:

• Indian Ocean (under Indian Ocean Tuna Commission): 4 vessels fishing under agreements with Mozambique and Madagascar.

• Mauritania: 1 vessel under a Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA)

• Falkland Islands: 1 vessel under private agreement

• Morocco: 2 vessels (although only 1 operated in 2011) under a Fisheries Partnership Agreement (FPA)

• Northwest Atlantic: 1 vessel in Northest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) zone under Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMO) agreement

In addition, the UK also had 125 vessels fishing in Norwegian waters under the traditional bilateral arrangements. There are also 3 vessels licensed to fish in Greenland waters.

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Spatial Expansion of EU and non-EU fishing fleets into the global ocean