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Disaster feared as chemical cargo ship sinks off Sri Lanka

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Sri Lankan navy members pull a sack with debris washed off to a beach from the MV X-Press Pearl container ship, which caught fire off the Colombo Harbour, on a beach in Ja-Ela, Sri Lanka May 28, 2021. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte
Smoke rises from a fire onboard the MV X-Press Pearl vessel in the seas off the Colombo Harbour, in Sri Lanka May 30, 2021. Sri Lanka Airforce Media/Handout via REUTERS

Smoke rises from a fire onboard the MV X-Press Pearl vessel in the seas off the Colombo Harbour, in Sri Lanka 30 May. Sri Lanka Airforce Media/Handout via REUTERS

A cargo ship carrying tonnes of chemicals is sinking off Sri Lanka's west coast, the country's government and navy said on Wednesday (2 June), in one of Sri Lanka's worst-ever marine disasters, writes Alasdair Pal.

The Singapore-registered MV X-Press Pearl, carrying 1,486 containers, including 25 tonnes of nitric acid, along with other chemicals and cosmetics, was anchored off the island's west coast when a fire erupted on 20 May.

Authorities have been battling the blaze since then, as flaming containers laden with chemicals have fallen from the ship's deck, the navy said last month.

Tonnes of plastic pellets have swamped the island’s coastline and rich fishing grounds, creating one of the biggest environmental crises in decades, experts say.

"The salvage company involved in the X-Press Pearl has indicated that the vessel is sinking at the current position," fisheries minister Kanchana Wijesekera said in a tweet.

The government has banned fishing along an 80-kilometre stretch of coastline, affecting 5,600 fishing boats, while hundreds of soldiers have been deployed to clean the beach.

A salvage crew is towing the vessel to deeper water, Wijesekera added.

European Commission

Sustainable fisheries: Commission takes stock of progress in the EU and launches consultation on fishing opportunities for 2022

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The Commission has adopted the Communication 'Towards more sustainable fishing in the EU: state of play and orientations for 2022'. In line with the European Green Deal objectives, EU fisheries are moving towards more sustainable, supporting the transition towards a healthy and environmentally friendly EU food system and underpinning sustainable sources of revenue for EU fishers, the communication shows. The sector's socio-economic performance remains good, despite the coronavirus crisis, also due to the swift support of the Commission.

The Communication calls for further efforts to protect marine resources, both through maintaining high levels of ambition within the EU and by striving to achieve the same high standard in the work with non-EU countries. Member states, Advisory Councils, the fishing industry, non-governmental organisations and interested citizens are invited to take part until 31 August in a public consultation and express their views on the fishing opportunities for 2022.

Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said:  “EU fisheries remain on course towards a still more sustainable use of the sea. And while the pandemic hit our fishing communities hard, it was confirmed that environmental sustainability is the key to economic resilience. The situation in some sea basins requires our particular attention, but also across all our sea basins more must be done to deliver the blue in the Green Deal. I count on everybody to play their full part.”

The 2021 Communication shows that in the North East Atlantic especially, sustainability was almost reached for the stocks managed under the principle of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) - the maximum amount of fish that fishers can take out of the sea without compromising the regeneration and future productivity of the stock.

Healthy stocks further contributed to the sector's socio-economic performance, which thus stayed profitable despite the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Fishing activities were hit hard by the sanitary crisis and landed value of fish is estimated to have decreased by 17% last year compared to 2019. The rapid support that the Commission provided to the sector, in particular through making €136 million of funds available under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, has helped in addressing the effects of the pandemic swiftly.

However, to ensure healthy fish stocks for future generations, efforts need to be pursued. In the Atlantic and Baltic Sea, the Commission will propose for next year to further maintain or reduce fishing mortality in line with maximum sustainable yield (MSY) for MSY-assessed stocks and to fully implement management plans that set MSY ranges of mortality. In the Mediterranean and Black Seas, although there has been a slight improvement, exploitation rates are still two times higher than sustainable levels. Strong efforts will therefore be aimed at further implementing the Western Mediterranean multiannual plan and measures adopted by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Further improvements in the Adriatic will feature prominently in the 2022 fishing opportunities.

Member States also need to step up the enforcement and control of compliance with the landing obligation, in particular by using suitable modern control tools, such as remote electronic monitoring systems, which are the most effective and cost-efficient means to control the landing obligation at sea. The Commission will continue working with the European Parliament and Council to reach an agreement on the revised fisheries control system, which can facilitate the use of these tools. Besides, fishers are encouraged to further adopt the use of more innovative and selective gears. The European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) can help finance such investments.

In its relations with third countries, the Commission will pursue high levels of alignment on fishing opportunities and related measures with high sustainability standards. This will be key to ensuring sustainable exploitation of resources and to achieving a level playing field for the EU industry given the strong interlinkages between fleets in the waters concerned. As regards stocks shared with the UK, the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA) provides a strong basis for managing shared fish stocks sustainably, both in annual consultations on fishing opportunities and through the Specialised Committee on Fisheries.

Background

Every year, the Commission publishes a Communication outlining progress on the situation of fish stocks and launching a wide public consultation on the fixing of annual fishing opportunities for the following year. This Communication assesses the progress made towards sustainable fishing in the EU and reviews the balance between fishing capacity and fishing opportunities, the sector's socio-economic performance and the implementation of the landing obligation. It also sets out the rationale for the proposal on fishing opportunities for the following year.

Next steps

After the consultation, the Commission will in the autumn table its proposals for Fishing Opportunities Regulations for 2022 in the Atlantic, the North and Baltic Seas, as well as the Mediterranean and Black Seas. The proposals take into account the multi-annual plans and are based on scientific advice provided by the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) and other independent bodies, as well as the economic analysis provided by the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF).

The proposals will also incorporate adjustments resulting from the implementation of the landing obligation. Finally, the Council of Fisheries Ministers of the European Union will discuss the Commission's proposals and establish the allocation of fishing opportunities.

More information

Communication 'Towards more sustainable fishing in the EU: state of play and orientations for 2022'

Questions and Answers

Common fisheries policy (CFP)

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EU

Overfishing rate back on the rise after a decade of recovery

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The rate of overfishing has increased in European waters, according to today’s (9 June) report  by the European Commission on the state of play of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). Oceana deplores this confirmation that the EU is moving further away from its legal commitment to exploit all harvested fish populations sustainably. To add to this, the landing obligation does not seem to be properly enforced, and the illegal practice of discarding continues. 

“The painfully slow implementation of EU legal requirements and the continued reluctance by Member States to follow scientific advice is bearing unwelcome, but not unexpected, fruit” said Oceana Advocacy in Europe Senior Director Vera Coelho. “In light of the ongoing biodiversity and climate crises, we cannot afford any step back in achieving sustainable fisheries. It is high time for the European Commission, member states and the fishing industry to fully implement EU fisheries law to save our seas and secure a prosperous future for our fishing communities.”

An earlier report1 by an EU advisory body, the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), confirmed that many of the assessed European fish populations remain overfished or outside safe biological limits. Indeed, the proportion of overfished stocks increased from 38% to 43% in the North-East Atlantic, after a decade of recovery, while the situation in the Mediterranean and Black Seas remains dire with 83% of assessed stocks overfished.

The poor conservation status of these fish populations is mainly due to the setting of fishing opportunities above levels recommended by scientific advice, the lack of effective remedial measures to recover depleted fish populations and the poor compliance with the landing obligation. Oceana regrets the European Commission’s continued reluctance to acknowledge the persistent issue of overfishing in the EU, despite the Commission’s important role in ensuring the implementation of EU law and in proposing and negotiating annual fishing opportunities with the Member States.

Repeated warnings by environmental NGOs and STECF that the EU was failing to meet its legal commitment to end overfishing by 2020 have fallen on deaf ears.  Oceana urges the EU institutions - European Commission, European Parliament, Council of the EU - and the member states to fully implement the CFP and finally transition to sustainable fisheries and to an ecosystem-based approach. The Commission should also not hesitate to take legal action against those countries that do not fulfil their obligations.

Background

The reformed CFP regulation2 entered into force on 1 January 2014. It contains ambitious objectives and concrete timelines to put the European Union at the forefront of global fisheries management and make European fisheries economically, socially, and environmentally sustainable. Although the CFP has brought about a general increase in the profitability of the EU fleet and reduced overfishing, progress in implementing the CFP has been too slow to end overfishing, rebuild fish populations and protect marine ecosystems. For some fish stocks, no progress has been made.

Oceana and other NGOs have drawn attention to the lack of progress in ending overfishing every year since the entry into force of the revised CFP, supported by annual STECF reports confirming that the trajectory to end overfishing by 2020 as legally required was off course.

While the CFP remains a relevant legal framework for fisheries management, it lacks adequate implementation, control and enforcement. Addressing these shortcomings is critical now, and indeed the European Commission has a comprehensive toolkit at its disposal, with the power to initiate legislative, political and legal action.

The CFP must be fully applied if the EU is to deliver on the objectives of the European Green Deal and build back better after the COVID-19 crisis. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices have been the main cause of marine biodiversity loss for the last 40 years and they also critically undermine the resilience of fish, seabirds, marine mammals and other wildlife to the impacts of climate change.

Reply to the Commission on the state of progress in implementing the CFP through the setting of fishing opportunities (July 2020)

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Brexit

EU and UK agreement on 2021 fishing limits: A promising sign of co-operation, but still falling short on the science says Oceana

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The EU and the UK have at last reached their first annual agreement concerning their shared fish populations, setting quotas for over 75 commercial fish stocks and adopting provisions for the exploitation of non-quota stocks in 2021. Oceana welcomes the willingness of both parties to co-operate but considers that some of the adopted measures fall short of ensuring the sustainable exploitation of common fish stocks.

“After lengthy and difficult negotiations, this first post-Brexit fisheries agreement is an important milestone, as only through cooperation can the EU and the UK address the management of their shared fish stocks” said Oceana Senior Director for Advocacy in Europe Vera Coelho. “But both parties are still repeating management errors of the past, such as setting some catch limits above scientific advice. If both parties want to lead on sustainable fisheries management internationally and help counter the climate and biodiversity emergencies, they must end overfishing immediately.”

A recent fisheries audit by Oceana shows that only around 43% of fish stocks shared among the UK and the EU are known to be exploited at sustainable levels, whereas the rest of the stocks are either overfished or their exploitation status is unknown. Yet there are still examples in this new fisheries agreement where scientific advice is clearly not being followed, as is the case with cod in the West of Scotland, herring in the West of Ireland or whiting in the Irish Sea, perpetuating overfishing of these stocks.

The fisheries agreement for 2021, which is unprecedented in terms of the scope of the number of fish stocks covered, has been adopted under the principles and conditions established in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA). The agreed management measures will replace the current provisional ones set by the EU and UK individually to ensure continuation of the fishing activity until the consultations are concluded and implemented in the respective national or EU law.

Background 

The politically motivated setting of catch limits higher than recommended by scientists brings short-term financial gains to a few and devastating impacts to the rest. Overfishing is destructive for the marine environment, depletes fish populations and weakens their resilience to climate change. It also undermines the long-term socio-economic sustainability of the fishing industry and coastal communities on both sides of the Channel. Indeed, Oceana’s UK Fisheries Audit showed that when catch limits are set at or below recommended sustainable levels, fish stocks rebound, demonstrating the positive impact to be gained by following scientific advice.

Oceana warns UK and EU must ‘walk the talk’ if new Brexit deal is to protect fish stocks

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