BRUSSELS – The European Union agreed to drastically reform its fishing policy Thursday, aiming to end decades of overfishing that has depleted many species in its Atlantic and Mediterranean waters.
The plan — backed by representatives of EU member states, the European Parliament and the executive commission — commits the fishing industry to respect scientific advice on overfishing, to reduce the amount of healthy fish thrown back into the sea and to protect sensitive areas at sea.
North Sea stocks of cod, the emblematic fish in the Atlantic EU waters, have declined by roughly 75 percent over three decades and special campaigns to revive the species have long struggled. Bluefin tuna, once the pride of the Mediterranean, has seen its stocks drop by 80 percent over the same time.
Under the new plan, overfishing should end by 2015 for most species and by 2020 for all stocks.
"The next generation will have stocks to fish that are in a better state than that they are now," said Irish Marine Minister Simon Coveney, who represented the 27 EU nations at the talks.
The plan still needs the approval of the member states and the European Parliament, but since they were intensely involved in the negotiations, that was not expected to be a problem.
"I am confident we can get the agreement," said Coveney.
European parliament rapporteur Ulrike Rodust was equally "confident of a large majority in the plenary" of the legislature.
Environmental groups welcomed the agreement.
"For decades in Europe, fishing has been a story of decline, with severe overexploitation of fish stocks," said Greenpeace expert Saskia Richartz. "The deal that is emerging today is good news."
The Eurostat agency released statistics showing that fish catches declined from 8.07 million tons in 1995 to 4.94 million tons in 2010, a drop of almost 40 percent in 15 years, as stocks of fish such as cod and Bluefin tuna dwindled dramatically. Quotas for EU fishermen also became more restrictive, reflecting the dearth of supplies.
The discarding of fish has also been a serious problem as EU fishermen had to throw back catches that were above quotas, resulting often in a huge waste of resources.
Liberal European lawmaker Chris Davies said some 1.7 million tons of fish per year were lost that way but said he was confident that trend will be reversed.