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Can changes in the European fisheries policy catch on in Canada?

By Alexandra Barron, Marine Conservation Coordinator, CPAWS-BC


This week was a good week for fish in Europe, as the European Union (EU) voted overwhelmingly in support of a series of changes to fisheries policy that will promote sustainable fisheries and careful management of fish stocks.

For years, the European Union ‘Common Fisheries Policy’ was criticised by conservationists and scientists for failing to adequately protect Europe’s declining fish stocks and ignoring scientific evidence.

The changes will include measures to stop the common practice of throwing unwanted or unsellable fish (“by-catch”) away at sea. The practice of discarding by-catch doesn’t just affect common species of fish, but also endangered species like cod. Other changes include establishing strict fishing limits informed by scientific advice about how many fish can be safely removed without harming the population, and making the financial subsidies available to fishermen dependent on strict compliance with the rules.

Perhaps most importantly, fishermen who employ sustainable fishing practices (i.e. those who avoid catching too many fish, unwanted fish or damage to the marine environment) will be given priority access to fishing grounds.

Lobbying to Win

The vote was successful with a huge majority of 502 to 137, and is being heralded as a win for people-power, because much of the momentum that was built up in support of these changes was achieved through the lobbying of MEPs (Member of European Parliament) by individuals, with support from conservation groups and even some celebrity chefs, including Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay.

Campaigns raising awareness about collapsing fish stocks, promoting sustainable fisheries and advocating for changes to government policy are part of an international movement, of which CPAWS and our fellow conservation groups in Canada are critical members. For example, CPAWS, along with our colleagues at the David Suzuki Foundation, Sierra Club B.C., Ecology Action Centre and the Living Oceans Society, operates Canada’s most comprehensive sustainable seafood program, SeaChoice, which helps Canadian businesses and shoppers alike take an active role in supporting sustainable fisheries and aquaculture at all levels of the seafood supply chain.

From Europe to Canada

This success in Europe is a huge boost for those striving for sustainable fisheries management here in Canada.

First, it demonstrates the sheer power of public will and unified voices in political decision making processes. Second, it sets a precedent for sustainable management and fisheries policy that other governments and agencies can (and hopefully will) follow.

Although recent legislative changes have weakened the Fisheries Act, and reports from CPAWS and the Auditor General’s office have highlighted Canada’s lack of action to protect its marine environment, these events in Europe provide hope that if we continue to speak up for our oceans, change will happen.

Join the call for protecting Canada’s oceans by adding YOUR voice to help us reach our goal of establishing 12 new marine protected areas and networks of MPAs in all of our oceans! If you’ve already signed on to protect our oceans, please take a moment to send a letter to governments to speed up progress in establishing marine protected areas in Canada.