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Christopher Booker: Crime On The High Seas – Committed For Decades By The EU’s Common Fisheries Policy

What were once the world’s richest fishing waters have turned into an ecological disaster zone. Of all the monuments to the failure of the “European dream”, this is as tragic as any.

When I heard the BBC’s Today programme banging on last week about the need to end the scandal of “discarding” – the practice whereby fishermen are forced to chuck millions of dead fish back into the sea – I could only give a weary shrug.

Scottish fishermen discarding cod. Up to half of the fish caught in the North Sea is discarded

Scottish fishermen discarding cod. Up to half of the fish caught in the North Sea is discarded Photo: BARRY GOMER/DEVON NEWS

 

Year after year in the 1990s I exposed the horror story of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), based on an utterly cynical (and illegal) trick whereby, in 1971, it was made a condition of Britain’s entry into the Common Market that we should hand over the richest fishing waters in the world as a “common European resource”. No aspect of the CFP was more criminal than what I first described in 1993 as an “ecological catastrophe” – the pointless destruction, every year, of fish in their “billions” (as an internal European Commission document admitted in 1991).

Enforced discarding – which makes our fishermen weep with despair – was made inevitable by the system that the Commission’s officials devised for parcelling out the “common resource” among all the EU’s members. This was the amazingly cumbersome quota system, which allocated to each country a certain tonnage of each species of fish, and made it a criminal offence for fishermen to land any catch for which they didn’t have quota.

The system was so ludicrously ill-conceived that fishermen could not avoid netting huge numbers of fish to which they were not legally entitled, and which therefore had to be destroyed. For years, however, it was noticeable that, whenever the BBC and other lovers of the EU discussed fishing, they studiously avoided mentioning discards and how the CFP had made them inevitable. It was not until about 2007 – by which time even an EU fisheries commissioner had called discarding “immoral” – that the BBC, Greenpeace and others got in on the act. But what they never explain, even now, is how a system that is central to the CFP has created this catastrophe.

There are countries in the world – Norway and Iceland, for example – which still have thriving fish stocks and prosperous fishermen. They also ban discarding. They can manage their fisheries on a sustainable, scientific basis because they control their own fishing waters.

This can never happen in the seas run by the EU because the CFP has to be based on a political principle which, by definition, makes it unworkable. That is why, whatever means the EU may come up with to replace forced discarding, what were once the world’s richest fishing waters will remain an ecological disaster zone. Of all the monuments to the failure of the “European dream”, this is as tragic as any.

The Sunday Telegraph, 17 June 2012