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SPEECH/ 09/404

Joe Borg

Member of the European Commission - Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs

"Scientific advice and the CFP: taking co-operation to a new level"

Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED


O pening of the ICES Annual Science Conference

Berlin, 21 September 2009

Minister Aigner, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a pleasure to be with you at the opening of this conference which, as ever, has gathered together some of the world's leading marine scientists. I have seen that many of the topics you will be discussing during this event closely coincide with the issues I would like to raise with you today.

Being on 'the same wavelength', as it were, can only be a good thing. This is all the more so, now, as we pursue the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. While we work towards shaping a new policy fit to meet 21st century challenges, it is time to look at how the science we need can contribute to achieving the goals of the CFP.

The Common Fisheries Policy is, and must continue to be, an evidence-based policy. Fisheries depend on natural resources and therefore we have to know how much we can sustainably take from the sea. That is why the high-quality advice we receive from you is so crucial.

We may not always follow your advice to the letter. However, I am sure that you appreciate that our responsibility is to make decisions which balance out all the information we have at our disposal. This is no mean feat. I can tell you from the experience I have had over the past few years that many of the decisions we took were certainly not easy to arrive at and will have been judged by many to have been less than perfect, to say the least. That being said, it is clear that we try to ensure that we have all the information we need at our disposal before taking decisions, and the science you provide us with is, of course, an essential component.

In my address to you today, I would like to focus on the shape and form I believe our long-standing co-operation should take in the future. Having said this, you can already anticipate that there will be a change in the type of scientific advice needed by us. We have numerous challenges to address in the years ahead, but already, without in any way pre-judging the outcome of our discussions on CFP reform, it is clear that the role played by science to date, needs to adapt to help us meet these challenges.

It is particularly because I am aware of the fact that the present situation in European fisheries is untenable over the long term, that I truly appreciate having this opportunity today to talk with you and sound out some ideas.

So, without saying more by way of introduction, allow me to come straight to the point by outlining some of the more immediate challenges ahead.

Firstly, we all know that fisheries depend on healthy marine ecosystems. We cannot afford to let our present-day practices undermine the health of our ecosystem; nor can we allow them to damage the ecosystem that surrounds us. In European fisheries we therefore need to continue our move towards an ecosystem approach.

We are doing this chiefly through the environmental pillar of the Integrated Maritime Policy – the Marine Strategy Framework Directive – into which fisheries issues should also be integrated. This approach raises a number of important questions to which I hope we can find the answers together.

For example, how do we measure “Good Environmental Status”? What is the current status of Europe's seas? And what is required to achieve a “Good Environmental Status” in the future? How can fisheries contribute to and benefit from this goal? And how can we fully embrace an ecosystem approach in our fisheries management?

This is one of the key areas where we need concrete advice from you in order to make progress. I am encouraged to see that at this conference you are continuing your efforts to deepen our understanding of these issues and I hope to be able to benefit from your findings.

Secondly, we also know that many stocks are overfished. We need to reverse this situation and reverse it as quickly as possible.

The recovery plans and long-term management plans we have introduced in recent years are starting to yield positive results and we are seeing the fruits borne of taking a longer-term perspective. This can only encourage us to go further. But as we do so, we come face to face with another reality, that of the economic and social aspects facing fishing communities across the Union.

So it is precisely because we are faced with a number of factors, often pulling in different directions, that taking decisions, as I indicated earlier, can be so difficult. We need to find the answers to questions such as: how can we ensure that we achieve sustainable fisheries without eradicating the fishing industry in the process? What are we trying to achieve: more fish in the sea or a proper livelihood for our fishermen or both? How do we maintain the fishing communities that have existed since time immemorial in some of the far-flung corners of our continent?

To answer such questions, we need to find a way of making the transition to fishing practices that are ecologically sound and that therefore are in harmony with the goal of achieving sustainability in the medium term. From the perspective of science, I think that the test here lies in integrating the economic and social angle into purely ecological fisheries advice. I not only think that this is essential, I also think that this must be done in a routine manner. It simply cannot be done as an afterthought.

I know that this presents you with an important challenge: a challenge that could very well necessitate an entire overhaul of the way we have been doing things thus far. However, I fear that failing to do this could well mean that any reform of the CFP will remain superficial and will not do itself justice.

So what scientific advice do we need under a reformed CFP?

Give that the CFP reform debate has only just begun, predicting how this may unfold in the slightly longer term is still – if you will pardon the expression – an "inexact science". Nonetheless, I would like to highlight four issues which I anticipate may well impact upon the role that you, as scientists, play.

The first issue is certainly that of focusing on ecological sustainability as our basic premise, while factoring in economic and social concerns. Since these concerns will not remain constant, we need to be able to adapt the policy as we go along. There must also be accountability for the objectives we set. The standards and indicators that we will have to put in place to this end will, in turn, have to be forged on the basis of advice from you. And further down the line, we will again need your advice to measure the progress made in pursuing our objectives.

Your discussions here on incorporating economic and social information into the scientific advice you provide for policy-makers will be an ideal starting point to make further headway on this issue.

Secondly, there is a persuasive argument in favour of regionalisation as it can bring both policy-making and implementation closer to the people, and the seas, which they affect. One possibility would be for the Council to continue to set the general framework for fisheries policy on the basis of a Commission proposal. Detailed implementing decisions, for example, on types of gear or on which area should be closed to fishing and when, could then be taken at a regional level.

This would involve, inter alia, drawing up scientific advice for different regions. Furthermore, scientists would need to interact with stakeholders and governments at a regional level to develop ideas about the management of the relevant fisheries in order to achieve the broader objectives of our policy.

Allow me to illustrate what I mean with a specific example: we could, just as an idea, start off with a Community-wide principle which says we will not fish a certain species above its maximum sustainable yield or MSY, beyond a certain point in time in the future.

At a regional level, we would then need to flesh out what that principle really means in practice for that particular regional ecosystem given its fleet levels, fishing practices, fishing seasons and so on. Science should be able to assist at this regional level too, in providing information that will allow operators to make informed decisions as to what this or that will mean in practical terms.

The third issue involves asking the industry to take more responsibility ¬– for instance for self-management - in a framework which depends on results-based management and a reversed burden of proof. By shifting towards a more results-based process, industry would take greater responsibility for the outcomes of the policy. This means that those with an intimate knowledge of the species being fished and the practices undertaken would have more of a say in how things are managed.

We would be moving away from a top-down, paternalistic system to a set-up where the industry takes its destiny into its own hands. This may not be the ultimate, or the best, way of managing things but it would be one that helps us find solutions to meet pre-determined objectives, while simultaneously remaining practical and economical.

We could, for instance, ask industry to develop its own fisheries plans. To do this, they would need scientific advice – especially if this is to form part of a results-based management system. I hope that your discussions here on collaborative science will shed some light on how we can develop this co-operation further.

All the issues I have highlighted thus far feed into a fourth, namely: making the policy more effective in achieving its targets while also making it simpler and less costly. With a vast array of management instruments in our toolbox and having taken the decision to have policy-making and implementation closer to those it affects, we should be able to ensure that we pick the right method to suit the situation.

Establishing fishing effort and closed areas are two of the management tools at our disposal. Others include TACs and quotas. It may therefore be the best way forward to manage some stocks by TACs and quotas as we do today, but to manage others differently. In the case of pelagic stocks, TACs and quotas are a useful tool because these are rather clean fisheries. Yet, maybe, we could combine this with other tools such as the introduction of trading in quotas.

For mixed fisheries, like the whitefish fishery, for example, it could make sense to put aside the idea of TACs and quotas and reach into our toolkit for the ‘fishing effort’ tool instead. The idea would be for vessels in this fishery to receive an effort allowance which vessel owners would have to manage throughout the course of the year. Skippers would then be able to land all catches, thereby reducing discards; they would deliver a more reliable catch data to the scientific assessment process and they would no longer be exposed to the temptation to under- or misreport.

Some of these thoughts send shockwaves through the current establishment however I certainly believe that these are some of the issues that we need to contemplate in this debate on the reform of the CFP. I would be very interested to hear your views, and I would like to know what you think of fishing effort as a possible way forward, particularly since I believe that there is ICES advice, dating back as far as 1992, which said that effort management could be a better way to manage some fisheries than TACs and quotas.

I think it is becoming more and more evident that we have a wide array of tools at our disposal and that some of the tools may have been underutilised in the past. The current reform of the CFP gives us the excuse we need to take a fresh look at how we do things.

L adies and gentlemen,

There can be no doubt that the scientific community has a role of its own to play in the reform debate. You have already understood this, as is evident from the conference themes that are directly targeted or are closely related to what we are trying to achieve with the reform process.

I therefore look forward with great interest to input into the debate from the scientific community. This debate needs contributions from experts who know fisheries and fisheries management inside out. You are clearly the people to do this.

I would like to conclude by wishing you all the very best in your deliberations during this conference. I know that your discussions will once again demonstrate that ICES is a fertile environment that is more than capable of finding the right solutions to today's challenges.

We look forward to taking our work at the Commission to a new level in order to further science's contribution to the goals of the CFP. In that vein, I hope to see our work with ICES and the wider scientific community go from strength to strength.


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