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

What role for women in the fisheries sector?

European Commission Conference

Brussels, 23 January 2003

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am pleased to open this conference on the role of women in the Fisheries Sector. This is the first time that the Commission has organised such an event and your presence here in such numbers shows how important this topic and how timely this conference is.

I would like to welcome all of you who have travelled from all over the European Union to be here today and I also welcome the Members from the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament.

I would like to address two topics in my opening speech which are of equal importance to you as women active in the fishing industry

  • First I would like to introduce briefly the successful reform of the Common Fisheries Policy as decided by the Council in December last. Our Director General Mr. Holmquist will give you a more detailed insight of the new policy during this conference.

  • Secondly I will address the role of women in fisheries

We have worked hard over the past few years to reform our fisheries policy, to make it into an effective tool that can help us manage fisheries in a responsible manner for the benefit of the fishing sector, coastal communities and society as a whole.

Before looking at the new policy, I would like to thank those of you who took part in the public debate on the CFP reform by submitting written contributions. You will see that we have taken a number of your suggestions onboard.

So what are the cornerstones of our new policy?

First we now have a long-term approach that sets the management goals for the stocks over several years. This will allow fish stocks to rebuild themselves bringing more stability to fishermen and their families and securing jobs in the long run.

Second in a week from now and for the first time in the history of the CFP we will apply fishing effort by managing the time spent at sea to ensure that it matches fishing opportunities. We will put this into practice starting with cod. This will give fish stocks a chance to replenish by leaving more fish in the sea to reproduce. It will also make control easier.

Third aid for the renewal of the fleet will be stopped after 2004 thereby no longer adding more fishing capacity to a fleet already weakened by overcapacity. However modernisation aid to make a vessel safer or to improve hygiene and working conditions on board will be maintained in the future.

Fourth we have laid down the foundation for transparent, improved and harmonised controls in the Member States. This will encourage compliance with the rules, because people know that detection of infringements and sanctions will be similar throughout the EU.

And fifth we have finally corrected a fundamental error in the CFP. Stakeholders will now participate in forming our policy. As part of the fishing industry you too will now be able to discuss with scientists and managers the best way to manage the stocks covered by the respective Regional Advisory Councils.

You see these are fundamental changes to the CFP and they will help secure the future of our fishing industry and coastal communities. But we have not only put the new rules on paper, we have also actually applied them on a specific case: the cod stocks.

Some cod stocks are in such a bad state that scientists asked for a moratorium as the best way of ensuring their recovery. This however would have had huge socio-economic effects in many coastal communities of Europe. Therefore as an alternative to a complete shut down of a number of fisheries, we have elaborated an alternative. This is a recovery plan with some fishing activity at low levels where fishermen spent less time at sea. I know very well that these measures are still tough on the fishing industry and I know about the hardship they are facing. But please let's not forget that this hardship stems from the fact that cod stocks are under threat of collapse. Avoiding that the stocks actually collapse and cause even greater hardship meant taking action with an improved recovery plan.

To help fishermen and their families during these hard times we offer financial aid from the fisheries structural funds to part-finance compensatory payments because fishermen have to stay in port or to part-finance retraining. I can only urge Member States to take their responsibilities seriously and provide additional resources under their structural funds programmes.

This brings me to the topic of this conference: the role of women in fisheries. Today there is little knowledge of women's role in fisheries and of the ways it could be enhanced.

We know that women in Europe have long been an integral part of the fishing industry. Recent statistics show that you participate actively in fish processing, in the marketing of fish products, in aquaculture and also in fishing. Around 84,000 women are employed in these sectors, representing 22% of all employment in the fishing industry.

But although we have reached the 21st century the perception of the involvement of women in the fishing industry still seems to be somewhat archaic. Fisheries is still seen as a male domain. In fact the public perception of this industry is "blokes in boats". The figures speak for themselves: while in the processing industry you make up almost 60% of the workforce and in the expanding aquaculture industry you represent almost 30%, the catching sector looks rather bleak with only 6% women. Also in leading management positions and in fishermen's organisations there are few women to be found. Only few women venture into management and other industry organisations, as this is often seen to be in conflict with what society sees as a correct family division of labour between men and women. The reasons behind this need to be analysed in order to overcome this pattern and enhance income earning opportunities for women in all ranks of the fishing industry be it harvesting, processing or marketing.

Woman's activities in the family and in the industry support sides of fisheries are usually unpaid and often unrecognised. These activities become especially crucial in times of crisis when you are the key to keeping communities and families together. This is why we must take into account the role of women in studies and management decisions concerning the fishing industry.

In some Member States, measures are in place to provide women in the fisheries sector with social and economic rights. We must examine these cases to explore if this can be applied also in other Member States.

Despite efforts made by the European Union many feel that women lack access to information, to capital, to training and to formal education. As mentioned before many feel that women don't have a voice in decision making and lack access to leadership positions. Many of you may not be aware of the financial assistance and guidance that we offer through EU funded programmes. During this conference a number of speakers will provide you with information about the financial aid available to women in the industry.

You will receive information on available programmes and on some fisheries projects which aim to develop the role of women in the industry.

Let me mention a few initiatives taken by the Commission to enhance your role in the fisheries sector in recent years.

In 1997 we developed a funding initiative for small scale coastal fisheries. Several projects were targeted at women in the industry and the funds were well utilised. Some projects developed women's co-operatives where experiences and information could be exchanged. Other projects established businesses and support networks, some trained women in computer literacy, in book-keeping and marketing skills. Then, in 1999, we organised a meeting in Turku/Finland under the PESCA Community Initiative. The main purpose of the meeting was to examine the role of women in the fisheries sector in fisheries dependent areas and their contribution to the socio-economic development and diversification of these areas.

The meeting in Turku showed the lack of detailed gender specific data in these fields. To close this gap we commissioned a comprehensive study on the role of women in the fisheries sector which will be presented later today. We hope that this study, which is the springboard for this conference, will be a benchmark to measure progress in this field.

To conclude, we need better recognition and enhancement of women's role in the fisheries sector. We must particularly emphasize professional training for women want to become involved in accounting or management activities. Support should also be directed to women wishing to bring greater added value to fish production and to those wishing to become involved in alternative economic activities whether inside or outside the fisheries sector.

Let me finish with a statement that Golda Meir once made: "Whether women are better than men I cannot say but I can say they are certainly no worse."

With this phrase in mind I hope that this conference will give you the opportunity to exchange experiences and best practices. Our goal must be to identify possible actions that will enhance your role in the fisheries sector and in fisheries dependent areas.

I hope that the dialogue we start today will continue and develop into your greater involvement into the CFP management process. I thank you for your attention and I hope that you find the conference rewarding.

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