Greenpeace members and small-scale fishermen during a small demonstration against quota, outside the EU Council building in Brussels, Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012. The European Union's executive Commission is calling for a new approach to protect dwindling fishery stocks and eliminate a system of setting catch quotas in which scientific advice is widely disregarded. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)
BRUSSELS - The European Union on Tuesday took a significant step towards protecting its threatened fish stocks when a parliamentary committee backed a series of reforms aimed at boosting fish supplies to sustainable levels by 2020.
The 13-10 committee vote surprised environmentalists used to decades of policy inaction as fish stocks plunged in the continent's waters. Statistics released the day of the vote show that EU catches have declined by almost 40 per cent in 15 years.
Even if the full parliament backs the proposals — which aim to toughen fleet management while easing pressure on dwindling stocks — legislators still have to wrestle with member governments before such measures could be pushed through.
Nonetheless, environmentalists lauded the committee's action.
The fishing committee "has voted to end 30 years of failed fisheries management by requiring EU fisheries ministers not to exceed scientific advice when setting fishing limits, and to restore fish stocks," said Uta Bellion of the Pew Environment Group.
Greenpeace expert Saskia Richartz said the vote "marks a turning point after decades of complacency."
Ulrike Rudust, who led the parliamentary talks, said the committee had cleared "a very tough hurdle."
The Eurostat agency released statistics showing that catches declined from 8.07 million tons in 1995 to 4.94 million tons in 2010 as stocks of fish such as cod and Bluefin tuna dwindled dramatically. Quotas for fishermen also became more restrictive to reflect the dearth of supplies.
Meanwhile, EU fisheries ministers started their marathon negotiating session on catch quotas for 2013. Environmental groups fear the quotas will be set well above scientific advice for sustainable fishing, while fishermen fear they will further threaten employment.