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ClientEarth Communications

21 September 2022

Fisheries Policy

Stewards of the sea? Meet the low-impact fishers of Europe

We need to make sure there is enough fish in the ocean for future generations.

This is an objective we as environmental defenders share with low-impact fishers – that is why we are now working together to end overfishing in Europe.

Brian O’Riordan is Executive Secretary of Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) – a European-wide platform representing about 10,000 small-scale fishers advocating for a fairer, more sustainable way to interact with the ocean.

We met him to find out more about what it means to be a low-impact fisher and how to reduce the impact of fishing on the environment.

Who are the Low Impact Fishers and what challenges are they facing?

“LIFE represents small-scale, low-impact fishers, who provide a daily catch of fresh fish, and who rely on near-shore waters to make a living. They are stewards of the sea, using the right fishing equipment in the right place at the right time – mindful that there must be fish for future generations.

“Fish are a public resource but because of the way that fisheries are managed, they have increasingly been treated as private property, with quotas being concentrated into ever fewer hands in larger companies.

"Some multinational companies – like the Dutch fishing giants and their supertrawlers –  are making many millions per year while small-scale, low-impact fishers are facing ever greater challenges to make a living as a result of restricted access and Europe’s dwindling stocks. This is discouraging younger generations from taking up fishing.”

What is the impact of fishing on the environment?

 “Fishing is usually a seasonally diverse, multi-species activity, using a variety of different gears. But it has become an industrial, extractive activity, targeting a variety of fish using single gear like a trawl. These trawls can have a very heavy impact on stocks, reducing stocks to below sustainable levels.

"Such fishing also has an impact on the biodiversity of the food web including on seabirds and marine mammals, and even on the plankton that form the basis of the food web by disturbing the seabed. Fishing gear also impacts the seabed habitats and the wider marine environment, including through lost fishing gear that continues to trap fish which can’t ever be retrieved – often called ‘ghost fishing’.

"Finally, what's come to the attention of the public relatively recently is the impact that fishing can have on the ocean’s capacity to sequester carbon,  for example by stirring up the seabed sediment in which it is stored”

How can we reduce those impacts?

“What we propose in LIFE is fishing less intensively – that means catching and eating less fish. In Europe, we eat, twice or three times the amount of fish that is recommended for a healthy life by the World Health Organization.

"We also need to fish more selectively. That means using gear which can select fish of the ideal size, leaving more mature fish to continue to spawn and leaving the younger fish to mature.

"Finally – and this is perhaps the biggest challenge facing fishing today – we need to decarbonise the industry, reduce dependence on fossil fuel and become climate-neutral.”

Why and how do you collaborate with ClientEarth?

“Right now, too much of the public money which is supposed to promote sustainable fisheries goes to private interests, to big companies with relatively small numbers of powerful vessels. We’re building synergies with ClientEarth because we feel that, for the rule of law to operate, it must operate fairly without favouring  the more powerful fishing companies.

“The Dutch control authorities, for example, are unable to implement the law, because they're underfunded and understaffed. They have two or three controllers for the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of fish landed every year in the Netherlands, including from supertrawlers.

“LIFE is working with ClientEarth to take legal action against Dutch control authorities. We do this to close loopholes which allow illegal activities, calling for transparency from net to plate.

"Together, we’re working towards a future which promotes:

- Transparency in how fisheries are managed

- A level playing field - we want fair fisheries, and for fishers small and large to be treated equitably

- Environmental sustainability, and ensuring fishing for future generations

- Climate-neutral fishing – decarbonisation of the sector

- Public money for public good - more collective projects supporting social and economic development.”

Read about LIFE and ClientEarth joint legal action to protect fish in the Netherlands

More on fishing

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