Fish prices are set to rise in the long-term as imports into Europe will be insufficient to ensure supplies, warned speakers at a conference held earlier this week to debate the future of UK fishing industry and the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
At a meeting organised by the Westminster Food and Nutrition Forum on Wednesday [September 14] Eniol Esteban, head of environmental economics at the Economics Foundation, said: “If we want to restore fish stocks, there is no other way than reducing the global levels of fish consumed.
“It means less fish in the market and less fish being consumed. It is not nice to tell fishermen to catch less and consumers to eat less.”
Fish prices have been kept down either through subsidies or imports, said Esteban. Currently, fish from non-EU waters supply Europe for the equivalent of half of the year.
Franz Lamplair, adviser for fisheries policy on the CFP reform team at the directorate-general for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries within the European Commission, said: “Continuing the policy like it is now would lead to a high probability of only eight or nine of 136 species being fished to sustainable levels.”
Professor Callum Roberts, marine conservation biologist at the University of York, pointed out that total allowable catch decisions have, on average, been agreed at 33% higher than the recommended amount since 1987. A total of 72 moratoriums on fish have been advised by scientists in that time, but zero has been implemented, he added.
The CFP reforms aim to bring international fish agreements into line with the EU policy. John Robbs, director for the marine programme and natural environment at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said agreements with a number of other countries needed to be based on the overall global sustainability of fish.
Robbs added: “The UK taxpayer funds fishery partnership agreements with a whole array of developing countries. These must be reformed. These must be managed on sustainable [grounds]. The Commission is onto this.” He went on to say: “Short-term decisions have in fact undermined long-term sustainability.”
Since the fishing industry is so diverse, it tends to be resistant to change, he added.
But Bertie Armstrong, chief executive of the Scottish Fishermen’s Federation, argued that action to protect stocks was underway. He pointed out that over 30,000 square miles of sea had been closed; seven new types of fishing gear were being tested and new nets were being designed to try to protect vulnerable species.
Two fishing stocks were already healthy enough to be at maximum sustainable yield, he added.