MEPs on Tuesday (10 December) gave their approval to a controversial fishing agreement with Morocco, new restrictions on deep-sea fishing, and reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
MEPs voted by 310 to 204, with 49 abstentions, to approve a fishing agreement with Morocco that includes waters off the disputed territory of Western Sahara. The EU does not recognise Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony.
In 2011, MEPs rejected a deal struck by the European Commission because it included Western Sahara. MEPs said the cost-benefit ratio of that deal was inadequate and that it would result in unsustainable fishing.
Under the new arrangement, which is expected to be approved by the member states, fishing vessels from 11 EU countries will be allowed to fish in the waters in return for an annual payment from the EU of €30 million, with an additional €10m coming from the ship-owners. Of that amount, €14m has been earmarked to support the development of the Moroccan fisheries industry.
Carmen Fraga Estévez, a centre-right Spanish MEP who was guiding the legislation through the Parliament, called it “an excellent deal for both sides, which fulfils all the conditions requested by the European Parliament in its 2011 resolution”.
But Green Spanish MEP Raül Romeva called the deal “the most shameful episode in the EU’s neo-colonial fisheries policy”.
MEPs also voted to blunt a European Commission proposal to restrict deep-sea fishing in the north-east Atlantic. The Commission had proposed phasing out completely certain types of uneconomical deep-sea fishing equipment (bottom trawls and bottom-set gillnets). The Parliament voted narrowly (342 to 326) to apply the ban only to areas containing sponges, corals and other vulnerable marine ecosystems.
“The European Parliament came close, but ultimately could not find the resolve to phase out deep-sea bottom-trawling, one of the most destructive fishing practices,” said Matthew Gianni, policy adviser to the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. “Nonetheless, a number of the measures agreed to by the Parliament today would, if effectively implemented, help limit the damage to deep-sea ecosystems.”
The fishing industry said that a total ban was impractical. “I welcome the decision of the European Parliament not to ban the use of a fishing technique, following the recommendations from the international scientific community,” said Olivier le Nézet, president of the fishing industry-supported group Blue Fish. “This text acknowledges that deep-sea fishing can be performed in a sustainable and responsible way.”
MEPs also gave their final approval to a reform of the CFP for the 2014-20 period that will see discards – the dumping of unmarketable, below-size or illegally-caught fish – banned by the end of 2015.
George Eustice, the UK’s fisheries minister, who campaigned for an end to discards, said: “The long fight to reform the broken Common Fisheries Policy and end the shameful practice of perfectly good fish being thrown dead back into the sea has been won.”
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