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21-01-2012 | The coming reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) sees the future of Europe's marine environment hanging in the balance. The changes made could mean the difference between survival or catastrophe for our fish stocks and the fishing communities that depend on them. Sam Fanshawe, Chief Executive of environmental campaigners, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), explains why.

End of the line


"If we continue to fish the seas at the current rate, many of our commercial fish stocks will be extinct by 2050 - it's a real time-bomb. Given the CFP only gets reviewed every ten years, if we don't get it right now we're going to be looking at a situation from which we may not be able to return. It may take decades for a completely decimated fishery to recover and in some cases it may not happen in our lifetime.

sam fanshawe

"We need to take some really bold steps now if we're to have any chance of turning things around."

Sam Fanshawe, Chief Executive, Marine Conservation Society

"We need to take some really bold steps now if we're to have any chance of turning things around. With the right political will and commitment, and a precautionary approach for the sake of the long-term future of the fisheries, then there is every chance that we will have, not only recovery of the fish stocks, but a growing thriving fishing industry rather than one that is very much being led down the path of no return.

Flawed policy

"The CFP may have succeeded in maintaining the fishing fleet to a large extent, but has systematically failed to establish a sustainable fishing industry. Over the 28 year period it's been in existence, the health of fish stocks in European waters has dramatically declined. Current evidence indicates that over 75% over European fish stocks are overfished. The main problem is that catch quotas are based on short-term economic gain and maintenance of the existing already oversized fishing fleet, rather than on the capacity of the fish stocks to maintain long-term sustainable catches.  

"Most worryingly, the scientific advice is systematically being ignored in many cases. The number of fish allowed to be caught consistently exceeds the environment's capacity to deliver and meet that demand. One of the really key things MCS wants from the CFP reform is a legal obligation to base quotas on scientific advice, and never set catch limits that exceed the maximum sustainable yield of a particular fishery.

Fish for the future

The power of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Fish Fight campaign is that it brings together groups - for instance fishermen and environmentalists - who would traditionally be looked at as coming from different sides of the fence. Fishermen don't want to fish unsustainably, they would much rather they could maintain their livelihoods, but in a way that isn't going to eventually put them out of business.

"The driver for overfishing is to a large extent the consumer. Fishermen only go out to fish to supply demand, so individuals can really vote with their forks by choosing to eat fish that are sustainable and well managed, and actively avoiding those which are overfished. If we can drive demand for sustainable seafood, that will allow a bit of space for those fish that are overfished to recover."


Interview by Will Ferguson

Photography by Alexander Caminada


Born in 1966, Sam pursued an interest in the environment throughout her university studies, firstly at York University and then in California where a love for the marine environment and diving was instilled. She joined MCS in 1994, since when she has worked on every project and covered almost all aspects of marine conservation. Appointed as Director of Conservation in 1998 and Director in 2004, Sam has led the conservation team and MCS through a period of exciting growth and development during which the charity has tripled in size and become a widely respected force for marine conservation. 


Comprehensive advice on the most sustainable fish to eat can be found at MCS's specialist website www.goodfishguide.co.uk , where you can also order a copy of their popular Pocket Good Fish Guide.

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