WWF asks EU to let baby fish off the hookGland, Switzerland - A new WWF report released today shows clearly that many EU fishing boats catch large numbers of small, immature fish — seriously undermining chances of making fishing sustainable. The conservation organziation is calling on the EU to ensure that its new Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) strengthens limits on the size of the fish that can be caught, and adopts regulations on selective fishing methods. With the EU's nearly 100,000 fishing vessels catching 6–7 million tonnes of fish every year, fish stocks are dwindling, with some even on the verge of collapse. According to a new WWF report — Baby Fish — large adult fish are getting fewer, and smaller immature fish are finding their way to our tables. A 1998 assessment of Atlantic bluefin tuna showed that adult numbers were less than 20 per cent of the 1970 levels. The same is true for the recently collapsed North Sea cod stock. Studies have also shown that 83 per cent of bluefin tuna caught by the Spanish longline fleet in the Mediterranean were immature fish. Not only were these fish young, but they were also legally undersized according to EU legislation.
"These young fish are in a catch-22 situation. With fewer and fewer large adult fish around, fishermen are landing smaller immature fish, which means that there are fewer fish that can reach maturity, start breeding and rebuild fish stocks," said Paolo Guglielmi, Head of the Marine Unit at the WWF Mediterranean Programme Office. WWF believes that current EU measures to regulate size of fish caught are either inadequate or not applied. For example, 86 per cent of swordfish caught by the Spanish longline fleet were smaller than 120 cm, the minimum legal size set in 1994. In May 2001, the EU derogated this minimum size stating that it was applicable only in the Atlantic. Such a decision opened the door to the legalization of massive catches of juvenile swordfish by EU fishermen in the Mediterranean, bringing the already heavily exploited stock to the brink of collapse. Although young fish caught are often consumed, in many cases they are discarded. In the Northern Tyrrhenian Sea, 34 per cent of hake, 41 per cent of forkbeard and 39 per cent of poor cod catches are discarded by trawling fisheries. In the North Sea, up to 90 per cent of the juvenile cod expected to reach maturity in 1996 were caught and discarded. According to the WWF report, there is compelling evidence that fishing of immature fish is widespread. Adopting baby-fish friendly gear and technique would help reduce this. For instance, in the Gulf of Lions, longlines capture only adult hake with an average size of 48.2cm, in contrast to the catch of juveniles by bottom trawlers. In the case of bottom trawling, increasing mesh size and using a "square mesh" panel — which retains its square structure at all times without collapsing — as an emergency exit for small fish, would improve the gear significantly. WWF believes that to avoid decimating fish populations, not only should fishing capacity be reduced, but regulations should be laid down for the use of selective fishing methods (to catch fish above a certain size). WWF urges the European CFP, which is under review this year, to include both these elements. In addition, WWF calls for the new CFP to expand, improve and update measures on minimum landing size to give fish the chance to reproduce and rebuild stocks. "The new CFP should move a step forward in making sure that market policies go hand-in-hand with sustainable fisheries," said Dr Simon Cripps, Director of WWF's Endangered Seas Programme. "There are currently no measures in place to stop a third country from capturing undersized fish and selling them in the EU market. This transparency of markets should not only apply to EU fish production, but also to fish products from other third countries." For further information: Anne Rémy Head of Communications, WWF Mediterranean Tel.: +39 06 844 97 424 Julian Scola WWF European Fisheries Campaign Communications Manager Tel.: +32 2 743 88 06