Study: EU fisheries failures jeopardizing sustainability of small fishing communities

Published on
September 26, 2018

Traditional artisanal fishing has been harmed by European Union fishing policies that favor big businesses and ignore other more sustainable approaches to conserving fish stocks, new research from the University of Kent, United Kingdom, claims.

This failing by European fisheries policymakers is the main finding of research by Alicia Said, Douglas MacMillan, and Joseph Tzanopoulos of the School of Anthropology and Conservation (SAC), which has been published in the open-access journal “Frontiers in Marine Sciences.”

To ascertain the impact that these regulatory actions have had on local fishing fleets, the researchers conducted interviews with fishing communities, fishers, and policy people. These accounts were combined with detailed economic and policy analysis, and the subsequent report found that traditional fishermen were being driven from the sea by specific policies that favor larger boats and richer owners. 

Furthermore, it was learned that inadequate safeguards around informal recreational fishing had meant that the pressures on vulnerable fish stocks including scorpion fish, red seabream, and mullets have intensified.

The study also examined the controversial subject of “blue-grabbing,” which is the legitimate appropriation of marine resources from traditional users through policies and governance systems that favor large-scale fisheries and other activities such as marine conservation for ecotourism. 

MacMillan said that E.U. policy focused too much on fish stock conservation and had no meaningful policy regulations to ensure that quotas for overfished stocks such as tuna are equitably shared among fishermen. 

“This allows individual nations to implement their own policies, which more often than not are captured by local elites to enhance their wealth and power through, for example, capturing all the quota. Furthermore, additional conservation measures such as no fishing zones are crude and tend to curtail all fishing activity over large segments of coastal waters, regardless of whether the fishing undertaken there is sustainable or not,” he said.

Said, who is from a traditional Maltese fishing community, said that in her home country, the small traditional fishermen have essentially been pushed out of the water and have lost their livelihoods through government and E.U. policies that were actually intended to conserve fish stocks. 

“At the end of the day, the small guy ends up with nothing but a meager retirement package, fishing communities fall into a spiral of decay, and profits for the large boat owners soar as they can capture all the quota and use cheap, often illegal labor to catch the fish,” she said.

Working closely with the local fishing community, the research has been discussed among key government officers, including the prime minister of Malta. A major reallocation of quotas for tuna and other commercially important species for the traditional fishing fleet has been promised.

The research is also being presented to the Ministers of the Mediterranean, who are meeting in Malta this month to discuss the issues of small-scale fisheries sustainability.

Photo courtesy of Alicia Said

Contributing Editor reporting from London, UK

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