Reformers hoping to push through a raft of measures to halt overfishing in Europe have won a crucial vote in Brussels.
The meeting of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee (PECH) was seen as a vital step towards reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
In a showdown vote the Fisheries Committee agreed by a margin of 13 votes to 10, with two abstentions, to approve a series of proposed reforms.
Conservation groups hailed the vote as major step forward and described their success as ‘an early Christmas’ for Europe’s fish.
Among the measures agreed by the committee are reforms that will see an end to discarding fish at sea, make quotas conform to scientific advice on how much can be caught, and to ensure that by 2020 all fish stocks are at or above maximum sustainable yield, a measurement considered essential to sustainable fishing.
Other measures include regionalisation which should allow a more nuanced response to different circumstances around Europe’s fisheries, long-term quota-setting instead of annual sessions, and moves to prevent EU vessels overfishing the waters of non-EU countries.
European Commission figures suggest that 47 per cent of Europe’s stocks in the Atlantic are overfished, with the figure rising to 80 per cent in the Mediterranean.
The reform package now goes forward to a plenary session of the European Parliament before, assuming it is passed, further negotiations among ministers begin.
Ulrike Rodust , a German MEP, championed the measures at the committee and will report the result to the full European Parliament as the fisheries reform rapporteur, an influential role.
He said after the vote: “I am very relieved that we have now cleared this difficult hurdle. I expect that the plenary will confirm our vote in February. After that we will have a strong backing to start negotiations with the Council in order to get the reform signed and sealed.”
Conservation groups were delighted at the Fisheries Committee’s support for reform which, until the vote was counted, was uncertain and which was feared might crumble in the face of vigorous opposition.
Roberto Ferrigno, of the World Wildlife Fund, said: “WWF are incredibly happy that this key stage of the reform process to make the EU fisheries policy more sustainable has been won, despite relentless opposition from certain individuals within the European Parliament’s fisheries committee who wanted to keep a status-quo.
“This is true progress and a complete victory for an amazing group of supportive MEPs – they know who they are – who worked around the clock to make this happen!
“The Fisheries Committee has shown through this milestone vote that the European Parliament is listening to scientific advice and wants fish stocks to recover.”
Seas at Risk said in a statement that “Christmas has come early this year for European fish stocks” and its executive director, Monica Verbeek, added: “This vote shows recognition of the fact that a prospering fisheries sector can only be based on sustainably managed fish stocks.
“Where the Council opted for status quo, the parliament presses ahead with a more sustainable reform, raising hopes that 2013 will see the adoption of a new regulatory framework that will provide for healthy fish stocks and thriving coastal communities.”