EU declares it will solve Mediterranean fishing crisis

The EU Commission announced, 30th March 2017: Following months of negotiations, the European Commission has secured a 10-year pledge to save the Mediterranean fish stocks and protect the region’s ecological and economic wealth.

The Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, a practical example of EU’s successful neighbourhood policy, sets out a detailed work programme for the next 10 years, based on ambitious but realistic targets.

Over 300 000 persons are directly employed on fishing vessels in the Mediterranean, whilst many more indirect jobs depend on the sector.

The Declaration was signed by Mediterranean ministerial representatives from both northern and southern coastlines, a signature that gives political ownership to an issue that was up to now managed at technical level. It is the result of a European Commission-led process that started in Catania, Sicily in February 2016.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said: “Today we are making history. In signing the Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, we are affirming our political will to deliver tangible action: on fisheries and other activities that have an impact on fisheries resources, on the blue economy, on social inclusion, and on solidarity between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. I hope that this declaration will come to be seen as a turning point — for a bright future for fishermen, coastal communities and fishing resources alike.”

Commitments made by the signatories include:

  • By 2020, ensure that all key Mediterranean stocks are subject to adequate data collection and scientifically assessed on a regular basis. In particular small-scale fishermen are to acquire an increased role in collecting the necessary data to reinforce scientific knowledge;
  • Establish multi-annual management plans for all key fisheries. On its part, the Commission has already initiated this process with its proposal for a multi-annual fisheries plan for small pelagic stocks in the Adriatic;
  • Eliminate illegal fishing by 2020 by ensuring that all States have the legal framework and the necessary human and technical capabilities to meet their control and inspection responsibilities. The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) will lead the development of national control and sanctioning systems;
  • Support sustainable small-scale fisheries and aquaculture by streamlining funding schemes for local projects such as fleet upgrade with low-impact techniques and fishing gear, social inclusion and the contribution of fishermen to environmental protection.

The effective implementation of the declaration will be made possible by involving in the process fishers (men and women), coastal communities, civil society,  industrial, small-scale, artisanal and recreational fisheries, as well as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and GFCM.

The declaration is another contribution to the EU’s international commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 14: ‘Conserve and sustainably use the ocean, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’).

The Mediterranean Sea is a unique sea basin, characterised by its long coastline and a fishing sector providing jobs for over 300 000 people. 80% of its fleet belongs to small-scale fishermen (with vessels under 10m long), who fish a quarter of the total catches. These jobs are at risk as fish stocks in the Mediterranean are shrinking: about 90% of assessed stocks are over-exploited. Food security, livelihoods, and regional stability and security are all under threat.

The following parties were represented at the Malta MedFish4Ever Ministerial Conference: European Commission, 8 Member States (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus), 7 third countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro), FAO, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, the European Parliament, the EU Mediterranean Advisory Council.

 

Source: EU Press release, 30th March 2017 http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-770_en.htm

Text of EU Malta Declaration: https://ec.europa.eu/fisheries/sites/fisheries/files/2017-03-30-declaration-malta.pdf

Comment by Oceana, 30th March 2017 http://eu.oceana.org/en/press-center/press-releases/mediterranean-countries-sign-historic-political-pact-ocean-governance

 

Marinet observes: The key question is: Is this action, declaration, call it what you will, by the EU and its Commission credible ?

With 95% of Mediterranean stocks (for which there is scientific advice, so that excludes a lot of stocks) managed exclusively by EU countries now being fished over the limits of what is considered by science as sustainable, thus threatening to take all of these stocks “beyond their safe biological limit” — i.e. the breeding stock will have become so small that the ability of the stock to actually recover is in severe jeopardy – one must ask another question : Could the EU Commission and its Governments have done anything else other than issue this Declaration?

Or put it another way: if the EU had not, would it be a credible government?

Many might think that to allow stocks to get to a point where 95% are threatened with falling below their safe biological limit demonstrates total incompetence by the government, and that therefore their present declaration must be greeted with a heavy dose of scepticism.

Yes, woe are we all! Marinet despairs that our governments behave so.

And to answer the question we have posed, we offer evidence also of today’s date (30th March 2017) which comes from another EU Commission report which shows there is widespread slaughter in the Aegean Sea (Greece) of seals and turtles — all protected under EU conservation legislation – and that the EU Commission is saying that it and the Greek government are finding it very difficult to apprehend the criminals, see www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/news/commission-alarmed-by-mass-killing-of-aegean-seals-and-turtles

Yes, this is what is real. This is reality. Make no mistake about that.

The EU Commission says, in its Malta Declaration’s “action measures”, that it is going to place matters back in the hands of the small fisherman, believing that they fish sustainably and are well disposed to delivering the objectives of the Malta Declaration. Two days ago (28th March 2017) Marinet spoke with officials at Defra in London about UK fisheries following our exit from the EU, and Marinet recommended that small boat fishermen in the UK should receive around 50% of the fishing quotas in the future (they currently receive around 4%).

The reply of Defra was that this is unrealistic. Why? Answer, because the large fishing companies, who currently have all the rest of the quota (96%) have “property rights” over these quotas and would go to court is government tried to take it away from them.

So who rules — governments or the large fishing companies and their massive fishing vessels? And, if it is the latter, is the EU Commission being genuinely realistic about what it can achieve in the Mediterranean Sea?

Another measure of proof of genuine intent and ability would be whether the spawning and nursery grounds for these endangered fish stocks (95%, remember!) will be closed to fishing so that the stocks can actually recover. Did you see this proposal in the Malta Declaration?

No, nor did Marinet. All we saw was that there is an intention to designate 10% of the Mediterranean as marine reserves. Apart from the question of why that percentage does not exist already, and is 10% even remotely enough, the reality is that even in the UK where our government extols its commitment to marine reserves (marine protected areas, as it calls them) fishing is allowed in nearly all of them!

A further aspect of serious concern is the credibility that the EU and its Governments to eliminate illegal fishing by 2020. How can this assertion be credible when the EU and Greek government cannot control the situation described above in the Aegean Sea, and the poor condition of Mediterranean fish stocks — all theoretically controlled by fishing quotas — is substantially due to illegal over-fishing. Success in enforcement is essential, the achievement of success claims to be an element of the Declaration, but historical evidence simply contradicts the likelihood of this success.

If this remains so, the situation will not improve. Instead it will deteriorate further.

So yes, alas, all seems woe. Reality looks, and is terrible.

Governments are not credible, and the time has come for something vastly different.

That’s Marinet’s message. Join us to deliver that message.

 


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