The idea that demersal trawling should be banned outright is firmly taking root in the European Union’s political circles. Fishing is far from being a major industry in the EU, which prides itself on its progressive policies in terms of regulating its fisheries.
It’s worth considering that in nations such as Iceland and Norway where fisheries are a pillar of the economy, and which were almost thirty years ahead of the clunky EU in establishing prohibitions on discards, monitoring fleet activity and more, the idea of a blanket trawl ban would be met with stares of disbelief.
But in the EU Parliament there’s a strong majority in favour of phasing out these demersal gears, the latest in a series of body blows that the European fishing industry has taken in recent years. The thinking is that a shift is needed to ‘low-impact’ gears in required, although there appears to be precious little detail on what constitutes low impact, or understanding that trawl gear isn’t necessarily high impact gear, or any realisation of the implications. As so often, a simple solution is being presented as a response to a complex set of issues.
‘It’s certainly a worrying situation,’ commented Daniel Voces, director of European industry body Europêche, commenting that there is in fact limited interest in the realities of the issues at stake.
Understandably, the industry is nervous about the European Parliament’s position, not least with the fact that few MEPs have any understanding of the issues at stake.
‘There are only a few MEPs with the specific knowledge that gives them a real understanding of the issues,’ Daniel Voces continued. ‘We have presented our case multiple times. But they aren’t interested in facts. There’s a political message that’s being sent here.’
He added that as far as Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems (VMEs) are concerned, the industry is completely in agreement that these areas should not be fished – but the impression given is that there is indiscriminate fishing activity taking place everywhere.
‘We fully agree that there shouldn’t be fishing in these vulnerable ecosystems, but there’s also the Regulation that bottom gears should also be prohibited in areas (below a depth of 400 metres) where VMEs are ‘likely’ to occur. That’s highly problematic. How do you define what is ‘likely’ to become a VME at some point in the future?’
He pointed out that the industry abides by the rules that are applied to it, while there is a constant debate over what further rules can be applied – such as the long-running argument over cameras on fishing vessels.
‘There are a lot of rules that we have to respect, and in Europe the standards are extremely high. But the default perception of the fishing industry as a whole is based on a set of preconceptions. This is an industry that is being demonised, and these criticisms are not based on science.’
A clear example is the focus on vessel size, not least the constant campaigning to ban ‘supertrawlers’ but without any real definition other than length of what constitutes a supertrawler. It seems to escape notice that there are smaller vessels that have a much larger catching capacity than the largest supertrawlers, equating fishroom size with fishing capacity.
‘The thinking just doesn’t add up, and it’s deeply frustrating,’ Daniel Voces said, commenting that the Mediterranean, the region apparently lagging behind in the way its fisheries are managed, has no supertrawlers.