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EU decisions are affecting fishermen employment

By Rasha Abou Dargham and Julen Hernandez

The European Union is currently discussing the reform of its fisheries policy. This reformation could mean lower employment rates for fishermen.

Member of Parliament and of ‘Europe of freedom and democracy group’, John Agnew says: “those claims that there is a fight for the fishermen’s livelihood have been leading nowhere, instead we need to say ‘look’ we have reached a bad point and we need to make drastic changes!”

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EU decisions are affecting fishermen employment

By Rasha Abou Dargham and Julen Hernandez.

The reform of the European Union’s fisheries policy currently being discussed raises concerns about the issue of the employment of fishermen. This reform, which is to be implemented by January 2014, sheds very little light on the employment factor and mainly focuses on the sustainability of fishing.


The European Union’s common fisheries policy (CFP) is a policy that mainly deals with making EU fishing grounds a common resource by giving access to all member states and to help conserve fish stocks. However, this policy has endured a lot of criticism and 2013 is the year this reform will be discussed.

The European parliament and Council of ministers decide together on this reform. Due to this co-decision process, conflicting views have risen concerning the reform and its effectiveness.

Conflicting reactions to the CFP reform

Members of parliament seem to be split over whether the reform will be effective in fixing the “broken” fisheries policy as the commissioner, Maria Damanaki, once called it. On one hand, Member of Parliament and of ‘Europe of freedom and democracy group’, John Agnew voices his opinion. “I said this before and I will say it again, a co-decision is a no-decision!” he said.

On the other hand, some MEPs were concerned with issues other than the decision-making procedure such as Izaskun Barandica, member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, who said: “It is clear that we need a reform, however, this reform should take care of the fishermen and the sustainability of their jobs as well if we need to build a better future.”

Having considered this division, Greenpeace saw the reform as a process and therefore

could not decide right now on whether it can be effective. Saskia Richartz, Greenpeace fisheries policy director, said: “The CFP reform alone doesn’t necessarily tell you what will happen to employment”. She also added that the diverging positions of the parliament and council make it difficult to comment on a reform but it is very clear that we need this modification in order to secure the future of fishing.

Concerns have arisen on whether the position of the council is strong and significant enough to make a change regarding the fisheries’ future. Suggestions made by the parliament would benefit small-scale fisheries however; the member states are looking for policies that would work to the advantage of large, industrial fisheries. This means one thing; more job losses for the fishermen.

In addition, Richartz brought to attention particular concerns of Greenpeace in relation to the reform: “Ensuring stock recovery by 2015, reducing fishing capacity, and guaranteeing that overfishing is no longer caused by this excessive fishing capacity.”

Members of the Greens European Free Alliance group hold a placard reading “Thanks!” After they voted Common Fisheries Policy reforms, during a plenary session at the European parliament in Strasbourg, eastern France on February 6, 2013. AFP PHOTO / PATRICK HERTZOG

The discard ban

 “One important point to discuss in this discard ban would be the direct influence it has on employment” said Barandica.

The ban of discards acts as the central element of the CFP reform. It bans the dumping of fish back into the sea and obliges fishermen to land all catches.

On February 6th, members of the European parliament voted to ban discards in the reform of the fishing policy. However, the issue of employment wasn’t mentioned in the ban regarding the future of fisheries.

Moreover, the co-decision method that is taking place has ignited many conflicts. The greatest resistance on the scale demanded by Members of Parliament came from France, Portugal, and Spain. Secondly, the council seems to be moving further away from the ambitious vote of the parliament to ban discards.

“Generally, some countries don’t want to limit the amount of fish the fishermen can catch. By accepting the discard ban, this would lead to fisheries being closed sooner than possible and they don’t want that,” said Richartz.



What does this mean for the fishermen’s employment?

Fisheries’ employers are about 139,000 in comparison to aquaculture employers who are around 31,000 as stated by the Eurostat fisheries statistics. This shows that the way this CFP reform sees the future of fishing in aquaculture leaves the fate of the fisheries’ employees undecided.

“The fishermen know that in order to work in the fishing sector they need fish. So, they are aware of the importance of sustainability. However, regulations such as the discard ban poses a huge problem for them in regards to their working conditions,” says Barandica.

According to Richartz it all depends on whether the policies chosen benefit small scale fisheries which generally employ people on a long term basis and provide in principle more employment, or if the policies chosen continue, like governments are doing now, by benefitting large scale industrial businesses which provide much less employment.

“The main reason for job cuts are the low rates of fish in the sea and therefore the restrictions on the amount of fishing that can happen. Secondly, a shift from short scale fisheries to large-scale fishing businesses,” said Richartz.

Therefore, she believes that the potential changes of the CFP, if governments agree to recover fish stocks, will bring about higher quotas. This wouldn’t necessarily imply that there will be more fishermen but at least there would be a stable improvement in the amount of fish that can be taken and therefore amount of income that is available for fishermen.

MEP, John Agnew, blames the CFP that he believes hasn’t been effective for 30 years for causing member states to pay the price socially through unemployment. “Who is telling the fishermen that they need to look for new work? Instead we just give compensation schemes and give grants for better equipment. But how is this solving the actual problems such as over fishing?” he said, “Those fishermen should be allowed to leave this industry with dignity.”

Future of fishing

The two contrasting techniques of fishing which is the commercial fishing and aquaculture both have their supporters.

While commercial fishing deals mainly with harvesting of wild fish, aqua farming is concerned with cultivating fresh and saltwater populations under controlled environments. For better understanding, those two types of fishing can be contrasted in a way of hunting and gathering versus agriculture.

Agnew sees that it is not sensible to carry on catching wild fish and that some species of fish should be made illegal to catch. He admits to the problems concerned with fish farming nevertheless he believes it is important to resolve those problems and adapt to this method.

Richartz agreed about the point that if the EU continues with the practices it has been using for the past decades it will only lead to fewer jobs and lower sustainability. “Aquaculture is being promoted by governments and EU decision makers as a solution but Greenpeace does not consider it a solution to the overfishing problem,” she said.

This is because in terms of quality of the product, Greenpeace doesn’t believe that aquaculture fish is as good as wild caught fish. Therefore, it doesn’t replace the need to go fishing; it just generates a different type of fishery. “It is as sustainable as fisheries for human consumption not more sustainable.”