In Focus

Published: Friday 31 May 1996

Familiarity breeds contempt. This , in a nutshell, encapsulates the oftrepeated statements of various gov- ernmentofficials on the status of the world's natural fish stocks. At the European Union (EU) conference on setting fishing quotas, which began on April 22 at Brussels in the Netherlands, the assertions of the European Commission (EC) members were the same: the stocks of fish, especially in Europe, are depleting. Drastic reduction in fishing by member countries must be executed, they chorused. And finally, they agreed to meet by the end of the year to agree on a new set of rules which would provide a multi-annual (covering two to three years) guidance programme for fishing.

But at the end of it all, the fish continue to get netted. That has been the one persisting feature in the history of world fishing. However, what the recent meeting hopes to accomplish, and to a large extent does too, is to focus more attention on an aspect which touches humankind per se. The fisheries minister for the EC, Emma Bonino emphasised that "restructuring of the fleets" had to happen. This will be given due priority for the next three-year programme from 1997 to 1999 under the common fisheries policy which was introduced in 1983. The fisheries policy in effect undertakes multi-annual programmes and mainly sets fixed ceilings for EU activity and targets for fleet reductions.

Sadly, for the world's already diminished fish stocks, many states have failed to meet their fleet cuts in the last multi-annual programme from 1992 to 1996. UK leads the offender's list; it has cut its fleets only by seven per cent when the requirement was 19 per cent. EC ministers have agreed on a new scale of flexible fishing quotas which will allow member states falling short of their fishing quotas this year to make up for it the next year byan equivalent amount.

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