Europeans urged to think twice about fish on their plate | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 02.10.2006
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Europeans urged to think twice about fish on their plate

Environmental group WWF has called on European consumers to rethink the fish they eat, warning that many are likely to be the product of illegal, destructive or wasteful fishing.

Hering fish factory on the Baltic Sea

Over-fishing may drive some species to extinction

A report delivered by the WWF outlined alarming results from over-fishing and increased demand which may drive some species to the brink of extinction.

Justin Woolford, head of the WWF's European fisheries campaign warned: "the trail of destruction behind industrialized fishing must be stopped or our children will be left with a barren ocean."

After reviewing about half a dozen popular seafood dishes, including fried plaice, swordfish or tuna steaks and paella, the conservation group warned that stocks of the basic ingredients were either threatened by over-fishing or were often fished in a manner that produced huge collateral damage.

"Think carefully before you go and eat cod, swordfish or tuna or plaice," Woolford said.

Wasteful fishing

Fishman raising a bucket of fish on a rope

A major problem with fishing is waste

WWF said that up to 80 percent of some plaice catches in the North Sea were thrown back overboard dead or dying, partly because the fish netted were too small.

Depletion of northern cod stocks, a rival favorite for local dinner tables, has already led to official restrictions on fishing. The EU has also set about trying to downsize member nations' fishing fleets.

Woolford said reforms to the common fisheries policy in the European Union outlined three years ago were "rather promising." At the same time he said it was ''rather alarming" from the WWF's point of view that there's still quite a trail of waste and destruction behind European fisheries.

The WWF claimed earlier this month that some types of tuna in the Mediterranean Sea are being illegally fished in excess of international quotas.

Not enough fish to meet demands

Woolford, said such a buoyant market has encouraged unsustainable fishing practices.

"There are too many boats chasing too few fish, subsidies maintaining the existing size of the European fleet, and a large degree of illegal fishing -- we've seen this with blue-fin tuna in the Mediterranean and cod in the Baltic," Woolford said.

"Certainly fish is now much more popular and fashionable than it used to be,'' he said. ''Sixty percent of what's on European dinner plates comes from outside European waters."

People in waterproof coats cleaning and scaling fish at a market

Fish is appearing more and more on the European plate

The report also pointed to illegal driftnet fishing in Morocco, which targets swordfish for the European market and catches one swordfish for every two sharks, needlessly killing an estimated 100,000 sharks per year.

EU attempts to revive declining fish stocks

On Sept. 2, the EU Commission proposed a 15 percent cut in quotas on cod fishing in the Baltic Sea in an attempt to replenish stocks. European fisheries ministers are due to examine the proposal at a meeting in October.

Two hundred European boats will be allowed to fish in the region subject to a new two-year ceiling on some types of catches, in exchange for 86 million euros (109 million dollars) in grants for Mauritania, including funding for the North African country's fishing industry.

The WWF said consumers should look for fish with a Marine Stewardship Council label, which certifies that the fish has come from a sustainable and well-managed fishery. Some European retailers have begun using the label.

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