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Article

Abstract

The European Union (EU) is today the world’s third largest fishing entity (surpassed only by China and Peru), with over seven million tons of fish landed in 2001. Denmark and Spain, the two main fishing countries in the EU, land about one million tons of fish annually and employ more than one-quarter of the sector’s workforce (more than 150,000 persons). Furthermore, the EU fishing fleet had more than 90,000 ships in 2002 and the number of people employed in its fishing industry (including aquaculture, fish processing, marketing, supply, and shipbuilding) in 1997 was over half a million persons. The fishing industry is therefore essential for the socio-economic life of coastal regions in the EU. Regulating fishing activity in order to maintain fishery resources at a bio-sustainable level while at the same time ensuring that fishing continues to be an economically viable enterprise for coastal populations is a major issue confronting the European Union, especially in light of the fact that the EU lacks abundant fishery resources. The Common Fisheries Policy of the European Union was adopted in 1983, although its major principles had been in place since 1970. According to the ideas prevailing at that time, the depletion of fish stocks necessitated the introduction of a fisheries management system in order to determine conditions for access to fisheries and the rights to be accorded to those granted access. Despite this perceived necessity, EU member states needed an additional thirteen years to accept a transfer, to the EU, of their powers regarding the conservation and management of the resources within waters previously subject to their national jurisdiction. The EU also needed this time to figure out how to deal with the disruption of international fisheries law (e.g., the displacement of the traditional regime of fishing on the high seas with the concept of the Exclusive Economic Zone) and the impact of EU enlargement to northern European countries (the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Denmark became EU members in 1973). Particular thorny problems related to EU enlargement involved conflicts concerning access to particular waters, raising questions of historic rights. The development and implementation of a common fisheries policy was not the result of unanimous agreement on a particular approach. What is now regarded as a community asset only came to be so regarded after ceaseless diplomatic efforts, made necessary by numerous and important economic and political changes. At first these efforts were not successful. The complex and laborious compromises that marked the first two decades of the Common Fisheries Policy failed to achieve the dual goals of biosustainability and economic viability. It appears, however, that meaningful reform finally occurred in 2002, and that the Common Fisheries Policy has attained a maturity that will allow it to manage effectively the challenges faced by EU fisheries and the EU fishing industry.

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