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Member of the European Commission responsible for Agriculture, Rural Development and Fisheries

Dinner Speech

North Atlantic Fisheries Ministerial Conference

Stenungsund ( Sweden) , 27 May 2001

Dear colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me first to welcome all of you to this 6th edition of the North Atlantic Fisheries Ministers Conference hosted by the European Commission

This conference has by now become an established event for us and it has served us well. By providing an informal forum where views and opinions can be expressed and reacted upon, it is an invaluable link that gives us the basis for a wider understanding of our respective positions. In my opinion, if this conference did not exist we would have to invent it.

As politicians responsible for fisheries management in our administrations, one of our main objectives is the strengthening of the fisheries sector on a sustainable basis; we have collectively decided to focus our discussions in this 6th edition of the NAFMC on new management approaches and I think this was a very wise decision, because in the North Atlantic as well as in other parts of the world, we share a fundamental common problem: it is the dangerously poor state of many commercially valuable stocks in our waters. Some of us here have actually experienced a total collapse of stocks. Let us take a look around:

  • it has been almost decade now since Cod has disappeared from the Grand Banks off Canada and the moratorium on Cod fishing is in place.

  • It was in the mid 70's when Iceland tackled the problem of declining stocks in its own waters. It introduced larger mesh sizes, but the fsihermen answered by buying more trawlers. Then Iceland restricted the size of the fleet and the days at sea. The fishermen in turn responded by buying larger, more efficient gear. The cod stocks continued to decline, when in 1984 the government introduced quotas on species per vessel per season. In 1995 the total cod catch was restricted to 25 % of the estimated stock.

  • In 1989 Norway realised its cod stocks were in serious decline. It severely restricted the fishery, putting many fishermen, fish-plant workers and boat builders out of business and Norway also drastically reduced its fleet. But because they took these measures while there were still some large spawners left, the cod population stabilised and increased after a few years.

So we all have been forced to take management measures that have inflicted considerable pain on some fisheries-dependent communities. Putting people out of business takes courage, but we all know where we get to without courage, and here I would like to cite Mark Kurlansky's famous best-seller simply called "Cod": When you get to zero, it will produce zero."

Father and son Smith Homans, editors of the Encyclopaedia of Commerce and Commercial Navigation once wrote in New York in 1858: "Cod a species of fish to well known to require any description. It is amazingly prolific. Leewenhoek counted 9.384.000 eggs in a cod-fish of a middling size a number that will baffle all the efforts of man to exterminate." Well I wonder what the two men would say today, when looking at the current situation of cod in the North Sea, cod in the waters west of Scotland and cod in the Celtic Sea. I guess they would have to rewrite their book.

As you know, the EU is currently working together with Norway on the recovery plan for cod stocks in the North Sea, where "the efforts of man almost did exterminate this species". The close co-ordination between the EU and Norway in this context shows us that effective international co-operation is an essential element when we have to address a critical fisheries management problem. So Norway and the EU are now literally heaving the net on board together, so that the future may bring our fishermen full cod-ends again.

I am convinced that we need also in the NAFMC to increase our efforts to co-operate in the future. Our gathering here is a good opportunity to discuss and learn from each other's best practices.

During our first two working sessions we will be looking at how the Community, on the one hand, and the Russian Federation, on the other hand, are approaching fisheries management challenges from broad perspective. For the Russian Federation Mr. Nazdratenko will present their approach. Another of the two working sessions on specific issues will focus on the question of discards, which are always a controversial topic in fisheries circles. Arní Mathiesen will introduce this topic. And we will conclude with a presentation by Herb Dhaliwal and a discussion on objectives-based management, as practised by Canada.

Let me thank the Swedish Administration and the "Västra Götalandsregionen » for their support in organising this conference.

I would like to close by citing Jean-Babtiste Colbert: " The art of taxation consists of plucking the goose so as to obtain the most feathers with the least hissing." Adapted to our topic I would say: "The art of fisheries management consists of harvesting the seas, so as to obtain the most fish with the least chance of depletion."

I wish all of us a productive and successful conference.

Bon appetit!

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