A temporary halt to fishing to allow overfished European stocks to recover could generate billions of pounds of profit within a decade, a report argues.
Most of the 49 damaged fish stocks assessed by the New Economics Foundation (NEF) study, including hake, mackerel, whiting and Icelandic cod, could be rebuilt within five years if fishing is banned for a short period.
The policy which governs fishing fleets across the European Union, the Common Fisheries Policy, is up for review. The report says all fish stocks, including North Sea cod which would take a little over nine years to get back into shape, could be restored within a decade.
Investment of £9.16 billion would have to be made to maintain fishermen's incomes and vessels while fishing cannot take place, say the researchers. Restoring stocks would generate an extra £4.43 billion profit over the decade to 2023, compared with the money fishermen would make if they carried on fishing the depleted stocks, the report calculates.
Once all the stocks are restored, they would generate £14.62 billion a year in revenue, almost treble the value of fish landed at the moment, if they were fished at a sustainable level. NEF suggests that the investment could come from the private sector, with every £1 put in generating a return of £1.48 within the first decade. Public funding could go towards measures such as training fishermen to monitor and police stocks while they cannot fish.
Rebuilding stocks should remove the need for any subsidies after 2023, the study says. Over the next 40 years, the fisheries assessed could generate an extra £120.2 billion in profits in today's terms if they are restored, almost doubling their value, says NEF.
Aniol Esteban, head of environmental economics at NEF, said: "In the context of the current debt crisis, these figures speak for themselves. This is a no-catch investment that offers huge financial returns.
"Continued overfishing is bad for European economies. Restoring fish stocks means more jobs, more income for coastal communities and less industry reliance on subsidies from taxpayers. It makes perfect economic and environmental sense."
Lead author of the report Rupert Crilly said overfishing is a serious problem in European waters. He said: "For too long the focus has been on the short-term cost of a solution, rather than the economic, environmental and social benefits of proper stock management.
"In determining the initial cost of rebuilding fish stocks, we see that an end to overfishing in EU waters is affordable as well as desirable. Policymakers must now take action to ensure healthy, sustainable fish stocks for this and future generations."