Credit: Olivier Gutknecht / Creative Commons

Industrial-scale trawlers decimating small-scale fishing around the world

In the first of a special series, META looks at how different cases of environmental injustice are causing inequality around the world.

With the industrialisation of fishing causing huge stock collapses and species extinctions, small-scale fishing communities in Europe and beyond are reclaiming their rights for access to and control over sea life. But campaigners warn that plans for changes to EU fishing rules won’t help put the brakes on overfishing.

The European Commission has just announced that it wants to let fishing vessels from the EU off the hook when they are fishing beyond Europe’s seas.

Non-EU countries need proper vessels, equipment, and training to be able to monitor what EU fleets fishing in non-EU waters are up to, yet in a proposal published last week the EU executive didn’t suggest increasing support to non-EU countries to fund these resources. Under the proposal, fishing vessels within the EU could also soon be allowed to break rules set to limit the negative impact of fisheries on seabirds or marine protected areas.

Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer at BirdLife Europe, said:

It is pure common sense that without controls, rules will not be followed. In this case, having rules to manage the impact of fisheries to the marine environment isn’t enough if there aren’t any efficient systems that control vessels and enforces those rules.

This comes as a new campaign warns that inaction on the inequalities arising as a result of cases of environmental injustices such as those caused by overfishing will mean countries won’t achieve the global goals agreed between world leaders in 2015 that aim to end poverty and protect the planet – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Moving away from intensive fishing and supporting small-scale fishing communities would help us meet several of these goals, in particular: SDG 1 on tackling poverty; SDG 11 on building sustainable cities and communities; SDG 12 on responsible consumption and production; SDG 13 on climate action; and SDG 14 on safeguarding seas and oceans.

Tackling trawlers is crucial to groups such as the World Forum of Fisher People and the World Forum of Fish Harvesters and Fish Workers who work to stop fisheries injustices such as those caused by intensive fish farms in Turkey or in Chile, big port projects in India and polluting industries in Ecuador.

Speaking to META, Dr. Irmak Ertör, a post-doctoral researcher in the Institute of Environmental Science and Technology, Autonomous University of Barcelona, said:

European political actors and stakeholders should instead strive for the promotion and implementation of the FAO guidelines for securing sustainable small-scale fisheries in order to move towards achieving social and environmental justice both in European and global fisheries. Throughout the world, the industrialisation of fisheries and overfishing in the past decades have shown that policies supporting an infinite growth in marine areas will not lead to sustainable outcomes and that all policies and stakeholders rather have to act for changing the blue growth paradigm and stopping these environmental injustices.

Ertör is one a group of researchers, campaigners, ecological economists and political ecologists from the EnvJustice research project who are working to fill the gap in monitoring of worldwide environmental conflicts by charting  social conflicts around environmental issues in a special Global Atlas of Environmental Justice – the EJAtlas for short.

Last week MEPs in the European Parliament voted in a plan for fishing in the North Sea which NGOs say could allow for overfishing of certain stocks in the region such as cod, haddock, whiting, sole, plaice and Norway lobster – despite the fact that 41% of fish stocks in the North Sea region are overfished.

ClientEarth lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said:

This is a political deal that fails to put the future of European seas and industry first. It weakens EU law by allowing overfishing, includes different standards of fisheries management for different species and undermines the aim of having sustainable fisheries for all harvested species. This risks population collapse and devastating knock-on effects for fishermen, shoppers and the environment.