EU 'must rebuild fish stocks'
Europe is consuming more fish than its waters can provide, leaving it reliant on other parts of the world to supply almost half its seafood, a study has found.
If the European Union was to rely only on its own seas to meet demand this year, the bloc would run out of fish today - six days earlier than it would have done last year, due to a reduction in domestic catches of 475,000 tonnes.
Despite the potentially productive seas around Europe, 49% of the fish consumed in the EU came from non-EU waters, up from 48% in 2014, the study from the New Economics Foundation said.
The UK fares slightly better, and if it had to rely only on domestic waters for fish, it would run out of fish for the year on September 12, the annual study said.
But other big European fishing nations, including Spain, France and Italy, source more than half their fish from non-EU waters, so become dependent on imports months earlier.
The New Economics Foundation (NEF) is calling for the EU to take steps to rebuild fish populations to allow the maximum catch without depleting fish stocks.
This could yield more than two million tonnes more fish from European waters each year, support more than 64,000 jobs and reduce EU reliance on fish stocks elsewhere in the world that are also overfished, and which local people depend on for food.
For the UK it could mean almost 550,000 tonnes more in catches and almost £390 million higher profits, the report suggested, warning that lower productivity made fishing more costly.
UK trawlers have to invest 17 times more effort than they did 118 years ago to land an equivalent catch, it has been estimated.
Restoring 43 of the 150 stocks in the North East Atlantic would increase the EU's self-sufficiency in fish products significantly, pushing back the day the bloc was dependent on non-EU caught fish to October 7.
The report said reforms in 2014 to the Common Fisheries Policy, which governs fishing in the EU, laid the foundations for sustainable management of fish stocks in Europe, but fishing limits for some populations were still being set above scientifically recommended levels.
Aniol Esteban, head of environmental economics at NEF, said: "Rebuilding fish stocks means more fish, more jobs, more profits and higher wages.
"Member states must take the opportunity to realise the benefits of managing our marine ecosystems in the best interest of society, through better fisheries management plans that lead to rapid fish stock restoration and quota allocation strategies that work in the public interest.
"While there has been improvement on the state of some fish stocks, EU fisheries ministers continue to agree fishing limits above scientific advice and few if any member states are looking seriously into alternative ways of quota allocation."
A Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs spokesman said: " The UK led calls for reforms to the Common Fisheries Policy. We've made good progress, but it's crucial we build on this in 2016. This means managing our fish stocks sustainably in order to safeguard the future livelihoods of our fishing fleets."