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Sweden's defender of fish reels in historic deal

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Sweden's defender of fish reels in historic deal
16:30 CEST+02:00
Isabella Lövin, an environmental reporter turned Green Party MEP, has been at the forefront of the battle to bind EU member states to a sustainable fishing policy, a goal she finally secured early on Thursday morning.

"I'm off to bed after a long night of negotiations. The results could have been worse," Lövin told her Facebook followers on 6am on Thursday.

Later in the day, Lövin is a bit more upbeat.

"It feels great now, but when I went home late yesterday I was a bit sad about not getting every thing we wanted," she tells The Local.

Despite her daybreak Facebook lament that things could have been worse, Lövin is quick to explain what could have been better in a deal that she still says is "historic".

"Better control over catch and release. But the ministers would not give an inch, they were immovable," she says.

"On the other hand, we've got a new control function to make sure they don't throw back more fish than the percentages we have agreed to."

Lövin was poached by the Swedish Green Party after the release of her 2007 book "Silent Ocean", which detailed the dire consequences of aggressive fishing practices.

It was never her plan to be a politician, but the party leadership put their back into persuading both her and the party faithful that she was the woman to get the job done. She eventually took the opportunity to make a difference, not just write about what had to be done.

She made it to Brussels on a Green ticket, one of a score of Swedish MEPs, and has fought from her end of the pool every since.

And it's no storm-free wading pool. She and German MEP Ulrike Rodust were among the leaders of the Greens' charm offensive on EU fisheries policy. They have cajoled, seduced and tempted not only the socialist bloc to come around to their side, but also tied up with liberals and, perhaps oddly at first glance, the anti-EU fringe in the parliament.

"For them it is utterly ridiculous that the EU decides fishing policy; they say it's a waste of taxpayers' money," Lövin says of her euro-sceptic allies, adding that the coalition keeping together was, in the end, what made possible a deal that was hailed as historic by sustainable fishing NGOs.

NGO confederation OCEAN2012 credited Lövin and Rodust for having "displayed considerable skill building consensus throughout the European parliament for an ambitious reform," said Baltic coordinator Christian Tsangarides, who told The Local that Lövin was "indefatiguable".

"We have worked very methodically on building consensus, it is the only way to get a result in this kind of context," Lövin underlines, but when The Local asks her if there was ever friction or a frosty atmosphere on the path to the deal - which required seven meetings before the final draft was agreed upon - Lövin lets out an emphatic "ooooh yes, oh yes, oh yes".

"The conservatives in parliament have just been waiting for our coalition to fall apart," she says.

"I've felt they then wanted to step in and be the ones to save EU fishing policy, because if they tie up with the socialists in parliament we are outnumbered and there is nothing the greens can do about it," she says.

"It is fantastic that we stuck together. It was the key to our success."

She particularly welcomed that the deal now requires member states to publish which criteria they use when allocating fishing opportunities to the fishermen.

"It gives us transparency. We can say, 'This is a communal asset and why are you giving access to it to people who use unsustainable fishing methods?'"

OCEAN2012 summarized the new deal, saying: "Member states shall use transparent environmental and social criteria, such as the impact of the fishery on the environment, the history of compliance, and the contribution to the local economy."

Lövin said that transparency, and the opportunity for critique it offered, could mean fishermen now have an incentive to be environmentally friendly and to let fish stocks breath.

"They'll compete against each other, because if you are not sustainable you'll lose out on your quota," she tells The Local.

Despite having fought the fishes' corner since 2007, Lövin falls silent when asked what her favourite fish is, aesthetically.

"All types of fish are flickering past my eyes.... the blue marlin is incredibly beautiful with its blue iridescence, and eels are very cute with their little fins," she says.

"There are no ugly fish, not even lump suckers. Deep sea fish with their slimy antennas are touching to see, they remind me that they live their lives contentedly down there in the deep."

And to eat?

"It is difficult to say, but I love the North Atlantic halibut. It is a delicacy and hopefully we'll be able to enjoy it, in moderation, if the stock replenishes."

Ann Törnkvist

Follow Ann on Twitter here

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