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Dr Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

Current difficulties and long term perspectives for the fisheries sector

Meeting with representatives of Europêche
Europêche, Brussels, 19 May 2006

Ladies and Gentlemen,

First of all I would like to thank you for inviting me to your General Assembly today to speak about the current difficulties and the long-term perspectives of the fisheries sector in Europe. I am well aware that the current situation is not good for many parts of the industry. Since our first meeting one and a half years ago I have had numerous contacts with you and I have visited quite a few fisheries regions all over the Union, which gave me the opportunity to learn about the problems and expectations of the sector.

I regret that I was not able to attend the seminar on energy efficiency in fisheries last week, which brought together a high number of qualified professionals. I understand this was a good opportunity to appreciate the complexity of the problems and to explore a number of possible solutions. I have also noted the interest expressed for a broader discussion on economic aspects.

Despite our combined efforts to improve the situation of the stocks and to strive for a sound economic basis for the fishing enterprises we are faced with difficulties in several fisheries, such as flatfish, cod, hake and others, but in particular we have now many fisheries firms that work at economically unviable levels. This situation is largely due to structural weaknesses in the fishing industry combined with unprecedented increases in the fuel price over the last two years, a development which is continuing as we speak.

I announced to you in July 2005 that we would explore every possible way in order to bring solutions to this and to find a way to ensure a sustainable future of the sector. As you know, the Commission adopted on 9 March the Communication on the “Improvement of the economic situation in the fishing industry”. This was certainly later than we had wished, but we preferred to take the necessary time for a thorough consultation process and to study all possibilities within the parameters of Community legislation.

The challenge is to balance the need to address long term structural problems with the necessity to help the most affected parts of the fishing industry to overcome the difficulties generated by high oil prices in the short term. We have sought to offer possibilities for rescuing and restructuring fishing firms by helping them to become profitable in a world where oil prices will remain high, and also by using Community funds. But beyond the rescue and restructuring it is important to define ways to structurally improve the situation of the sector, and to create an environment that will lead to a healthy fishing sector in the long term.

Let me quickly run through these two dimensions of the Communication.

For the short term, state aid may be granted by Member States willing to provide financial support to their fishing sector. They are invited to set up, within the next two years, a national rescue and restructuring scheme for the financial and physical restructuring of fishing enterprises in difficulty. These schemes must be based on realistic economic assumptions and take into account the state of health of fish stocks targeted by the vessels. They need to be approved by the Commission. The Communication spells out the measures that can be taken within this framework with the aim of reducing substantially fuel consumption, such as, for example, aid for a change of fishing gear or for engine replacement. However, these measures may not lead to an increase in fishing pressure. Conditions are therefore attached to this in order to avoid any increase in fishing capacity and effort, and to conform to the Community guidelines on rescue and restructuring.

The Commission invites Member States to make use of Community funds to promote rescue and restructuring efforts in order to get the best results rapidly. The Commission would also be willing to examine a possible adaptation of the FIFG to allow the full use of Community funds for this purpose, if the EFF regulation is adopted in Council next Monday. This would leave enough time to adapt the FIFG for the remaining period, if the Council and the European Parliament agree to it.

Beyond the immediate, we need to create over the longer term, an environment that is conducive to the sustainable success of such rescue and restructuring plans. In this respect the Communication highlights the policy that will be necessary to bring this about.

First, we need to continue efforts to bring fishing capacity in line with available resources, in particular in depleted stocks. Capacity reductions will be eligible for more generous Community co-financing under EFF than is possible today. Secondly, we need to generalise the adoption of a long-term management approach to fisheries, which can provide a stable framework to ensure that total allowable catches and mortality rates are in line with sustainable fishing. The Commission will soon launch a debate on a general strategy to lower fishing mortality gradually in major fisheries in order to reach Maximum Sustainable Yield within the next 10 years, in line with the commitments taken by the international Community in the Johannesburg World Summit.

But sustainable fisheries are only possible if fishers feel they have a long-term stake in the sector, and if they accept the rules. To this end, fishers must feel that they, too, have an interest in profitable, sustainable fisheries, that the rule-making process is geared towards the long-term health of the sector and that they have a real role in this process. I therefore want to improve the participation of fishers’ representatives in fisheries management, including through the establishment of all the planned Regional Advisory Councils and the strengthening of those already existing.

We must also work towards a more harmonised control framework and improve the enforcement of the CFP across the Community. In many Member States the control framework is weak and penalties are too low to act as an effective deterrent. This penalises the majority of fishermen who comply with the rules. The setting up of the Fisheries Control Agency in Vigo provides us with a unique opportunity to improve the situation. It is crucial that we seize it.

The Communication finally states our intention to examine other issues that could contribute to an improvement of the economic environment for the fisheries sector, such as the review of the organisation and operation of fish markets, the promotion of research on fuel-efficient and more environmentally-friendly fishing methods, and restoring fair competition in international waters.

Apart from those two actions, we are currently discussing within the Commission, a proposal to increase the de minimis aid that a Member State can pay to a fishing firm. I trust that we will have the proposal out before the summer recess.

Let me now refer briefly to the Community’s long distance fleet. Some of you have pleaded for a special treatment, since these vessels operate under very different conditions from those within Community waters and they are in direct competition with third country fleets. For me this is an important issue and my services are currently examining possible solutions such as the exclusion of these vessels from the entry/exit regime for fleet management subject to certain conditions, like specific segments, no access to aid and no return to Community waters.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The case of the Community’s long distance fleet and other examples, show that there is no quick and easy fix to the current economic difficulties of the fishing sector.

In line with Community Guidelines, it should be possible to help rescue and restructure those fishing enterprises which can operate profitably within the current context of high oil prices, taking into account the situation of fish stocks. We want to mobilise all Community instruments for that purpose.

You too have a significant role to play in providing the long term improvement of the economic situation of the sector that we all would like to see happen. We are determined to work together with you to bring about the necessary structural changes and create an environment more conducive to a healthy and sustainable fishing sector.

Thank you.

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