Today EU countries run out of fish
By New Economics Foundation – From today until the end of the year, EU countries will rely on importing fish from outside of the EU to meet fish demand.
This means, as a bloc, our own production only supplies enough fish for just over half of our total consumption.
Why does this matter?
Relying on trade with others is not normally a bad thing: different countries are better at producing different things.
But in the case of European fisheries this dependence is a worrying symptom of decades of overfishing combined with rising consumption.
As a result of depleted stocks and stricter measures to control overfishing, catches in the EU have declined by around 2% per year between 1993 and 2013.
At the same time, many member states have massively increased their fish consumption. Portugal’s has increased from 29kg per capita per year in 1980 to 57kg in 2011, and EU-wide demand has gone up 57% since 1961.
Not only has this meant an increase in international imports, but it also means importing more from countries with weaker regulations.
The EU has progressively improved control over illegal fishing and now sets fishing limits more in line with what is sustainable.
But many other countries lack the same level of control and enforcement over their fisheries, often leading to unsustainable practices and in some cases even depriving local populations of their fish resource.
Are things getting better?
Last year, EU fish dependence day was 10 days earlier on the 3rd July, so things have improved slightly.
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More generally, with more sustainable limits to fishing being set, there are clear signs that stocks are starting to improve. The proportion of stocks overfished in EU waters has decreased from 91% to 41% between 2006 and 2014.
This positive trend may also explain why fish dependence hasn’t matched the increase in consumption over the last 10 years. In fact, as the graph below shows, there has been a gradual if erratic decline in fish dependence.
Note: EU Fish dependence is measured as the percentage of fish consumed in the EU that comes from imports. We used 2013 data, the latest available, for our 2016 fish dependence update
However, we shouldn’t put our feet up as just yet.
Our modelling has shown that if European waters were fished sustainably, fish dependence day would be 87 days later on the 8th October – a fish dependency of just 21%, a reduction of more than half than the current 47%.
We could be fishing 2 million tonnes of extra fish a year supporting at least 20,000 additional jobs. It is crucial that in the coming years the EU sticks to its targets of fishing sustainably to make this a reality.
What about the UK and Brexit?
The UK’s fish dependence day is scheduled for the 19th of September this year, meaning the UK is more self-sufficient than the EU as a whole.
It’s also improving: since 1990 the UK’s fish dependence day has moved back 51 days making the country 14% points less dependent on imports.
But Brexit is likely to bring changes to UK fish markets.
Exactly what changes depend on the UK’s future relationship with the EU and the regulations that replace the Common Fisheries Policy, but there are some probable effects.
Leaving the single market is likely to result in the reintroduction of trade-tariffs, which would make trade more expensive and reduce it in both directions.
The fall in the value of the pound may also alter the pattern of trade flows, with imports becoming more expensive for the UK but its exports cheaper for other countries.
The biggest concern is the possibility that the UK will decide to drop the EU’s current ambitious targets of achieving maximum sustainable yield by 2020 and also phasing out discards.
As it has done in the past the UK should keep these targets and continue to lead in sustainable and responsible fishing.
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