by Ray Fleming

T he European Union's Common Agricultural Policy has always been an easy target for Eurosceptics but the similar Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has usually escaped comparable public interest except among those directly involved in the fishing business. Yesterday, however, the CFP was in the limelight as the European Parliament voted 502-137 in favour of a package of proposals that will change the current methods of negotiating the catch quotas that have been mainly responsible for a decline of more than 30 per cent in cod, plaice, sole and other fish in European waters since 1993. The changes are based on two objectives: from 2015, of keeping catches no higher than the amount that can be naturally reproduced, and, by 2020, of achieving growth in all depleted stocks. Yesterday's vote was received with reserve by the two biggest EU fishing countries, Denmark and Spain, but more generally it was welcomed as a break with a system that was difficult to monitor and that led to considerable waste of fish stocks. It also depended on annual negotiations that typically lasted through several nights before often flawed compromises were reached.

The vote was also interesting in that a considerable lobbying effort had been mounted by concerned organisations in member states -- even some celebrity chefs took part -- to get a big majority for change from MEPs and their parties for a new deal.