Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime
Adoption of the Green paper on the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy
Today we are making the first step towards a new, radically different approach to fisheries. Above and beyond the 2002 reform agenda, which we continue to pursue, there are some problems in the fisheries sector that need fixing in the medium term – and which require a whole new set of tools.
If we are to create such new tools and bring about the required mind set in good time, we need to start preparing now. This is why I have initiated the process of the next reform of the Common Fisheries Policy today, so that we can be ready for the quantum leap that certain challenges require.
The Green Paper presented today is meant to open a debate with civil society about the future of the Common Fisheries Policy. The Paper analyses the current situation but gives no ready-made solutions. Instead, it poses a number of open and daring questions on all the issues at stake leaving them deliberately open to elicit discussion.
This is a decisive moment for the Common Fisheries Policy and I promise to leave no stone unturned. We have time, but we need to get this reform right. In my interactions with Member States and the sector I have found broad agreement on the need for reform as well as on some of the options we should investigate. I look forward now to engaging in a broad-based, no-holds-barred debate with Member States and stakeholders about how to achieve our common goal – creating a genuinely sustainable European fisheries sector, capable of meeting the challenges of the 21st century.
Why do we need the reform?
The last Reform of the CFP dates back to 2002. Since then, steady progress has undoubtedly been made in some areas, for instance:
a number of key commercial fish stocks are now being managed under long-term plans, which is the most effective way to meet the needs of the fishing sector while at the same time ensuring a sustainable pace of exploitation;
stakeholders are now much more involved in developing the CFP through the Regional Advisory Councils;
we have adopted a regulation to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and
we have undertaken a reform of our control policy.
Yet many problems still remain and need to be addressed in a radical way. 88% of European fish stocks are overfished, compared to a global average of only 25%. One third of our fish stocks cannot reproduce at a normal rate because the parenting population is too depleted. In many fisheries the fleet is exerting a fishing pressure which is two to three times the level that fish stocks can take. Europe relies on imports for two-thirds of its demand.
Most of our problems stem from fleet overcapacity, which is economically inefficient and a main driver for overfishing. Our best attempts to reduce the size of our fleet have been largely neutralised by the constant development of new, more powerful technologies, which, though unavoidable, invisibly increase the harvesting capacity of modern boats.
We find ourselves in a vicious circle. We have subsidised fishing capacity and helped the European fleet modernise. As a result, the fleet has grown too big for the stocks, and the stocks are depleted. The fewer fish are left to catch, the more the industry's profit margins are squeezed. So fishers try to fish even more to make up the loss of earnings and so we subsidize further. And so on and so forth.
I want the next reform of the CFP to break this cycle once and for all. I would like to re-focus the objectives of the CFP and make sure to centre it on long-term sustainability of fisheries. I want to get us out of the current situation, where too many fishing vessels are chasing too few fish, thus driving the overall profitability of the sector down and exposing many fishermen and coastal communities to serious problems whenever the economic environment becomes harsh.
On top of putting an end to overexploiting and discarding fish, we must strive to restore the productivity of our oceans and seas. We need to go back to a healthy and sustainable marine environment capable of generating wealth for our fishing industry and nutritious food for our citizens.
We also have to readjust our decision–making mechanisms. At present, our management procedures are too detailed and top-down. In particular, we need to favour the Member States and regional dimensions more, and whenever possible let decisions be made at a level that is closer to the people they affect.
We will also need to examine the principle of ‘relative stability’, as it has led fisheries ministers to focus on "their" immediate share rather than on the common good. Perhaps the notion of relative stability can be adopted or made more flexible, so that the fishing sector's interests tally with the collective interest of respecting sustainable levels of catches.
My vision for the future is a situation where Europe reduces its reliance on imports, and fishery becomes again a growing market in Europe and a viable sector, providing secure, well rewarded jobs and delivering healthy and safe seafood to European consumers; where the marine environment is healthy and productive; young generations in coastal communities start to consider fishing as an interesting and reliable way of making a living; where the Common Fisheries Policy is effective, simple to implement and seen as legitimate both by the sector and by European citizens; and where worldwide, the EU is committed to promoting good maritime governance and responsible fishing. The Green Paper calls for this kind of scenario.
This review process should pave the way for the change needed, and if we get it right, we will have a system which, in the long run, will benefit everyone: fishermen, because they will have access to plentiful fish stocks; people living in coastal regions, because they will reap the benefits of a diversified local economy; and consumers, because they will have access to fresh, high-quality food coming from EU waters.