In an outcome hailed by environmentalists, European Union lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Wednesday to overhaul the region’s troubled fisheries policy to end decades of overfishing.
Responding to widespread public dissatisfaction with the current policy, the European Parliament voted 502-137 to impose sustainable quotas by 2015 and end the practice of discarding unwanted fish at sea, according to The New York Times.
The legislation also returns some management responsibility to EU member states.
“The fishermen back home were really determined to wrest control away from Brussels, where the micromanagers have been the absolute ruination of the fisheries policy” and they will be pleased with the outcome, Struan Stevenson, a Scottish member of Parliament for the European Conservatives and Reformists and the party’s spokesman on the issue, told The New York Times.
Markus Knigge, policy and research director for Pew Environment, said the EU legislation was comparable to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the landmark U.S. law that in 1976 established modern American fisheries practices, widely seen as superior to European practices.
Under current policy, 63 percent of the EU’s Atlantic stocks and 82 percent of its Mediterranean stocks are overfished, according to the European Commission.
The vote Wednesday in Strasbourg was the first time the Parliament had shared responsibility for setting fisheries policy, formerly the domain of the European Fisheries Council. The council, dominated by national fisheries ministries with close ties to the industry, has been criticized for flouting scientific recommendations on catch limits and providing subsidies to fleets harvesting even the most vulnerable species.
Guy Vernaeve, secretary general of Europêche, which represents European fishing associations, expressed disappointment with the vote. Setting quotas at maximum sustainable yields by 2015 was “unrealistic,” he said, and the discard ban was a “radical obligation” that legislators had adopted without understanding that in many cases it would be impossible to implement.
Vernaeve said the industry would seek to persuade the European Fisheries Council to fight some measures, but added that a final agreement could be reached by June.
The parliamentary vote, spearheaded by Ulrike Rodust, a German Socialist who leads the Fisheries Committee, was supported by an alliance of Greens, Liberals, Socialists and the Conservatives and Reformists. But parliamentary observers said the final tally showed that some lawmakers from parties opposed to the overhaul had crossed the aisles in significant numbers to support it.
Still, the Parliament does not have the final word on the matter. Because the legislation adopted Wednesday goes much further than proposals from the Fisheries Council, the issue will go through a process known as a trilogue — a reconciliation of the competing proposals, with the European Commission acting as mediator.
The Irish government, which holds the rotating presidency of the Union, has said it hopes to wrap up an agreement by the end of June.