BRUSSELS (AP) — Fish populations are being depleted to such an extent that Europe's children face the prospect of a future where they'll see fish only in pictures and not on their plates, a senior European Union official said Wednesday.
Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Fisheries, made the comment as she outlined proposals designed to prevent overfishing and bring fish stocks to sustainable levels by 2015.
Damanaki said 75 percent of EU fish stocks were overfished and a third are "in a worrying state."
"Business as usual is not an option," Damanaki said. "According to our modeling exercise, if no reform takes place, only eight stocks out of 136 will be at sustainable levels in 2022. In other words, if we don't make structural changes to the way we do business now, we will loose one fish stock after the other."
One of the main proposals is to ban throwing dead unwanted fish overboard so that they do not count as part of the assigned quota — a practice Damanaki said accounts for 60 percent of the catch of some species.
Another proposal would create a system under which ships over 12 meters (40 feet) long could sell their quotas to other ships from the same country. Damanaki plan would also require labels so consumers would know where and how their fish were caught.
The proposals were approved unanimously by the European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union. They must now go to the European Parliament and the European Council, which is made up of the heads of government of the 27 EU countries — some of which have long histories of diluting tough fisheries policies.
One environmental group, Oceanea, though, called Damanaki's proposal half-hearted, in part because the ban on discards would apply only to a portion of the commercially exploited species. The group said the plan included some positive steps by failed to deliver the solutions the situation demands.
For her part, Damanaki acknowledged there will be attempts, before the plan becomes law, to weaken it significantly.
"My difficulties now begin," she said. "The negotiations will be hard."