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Member of the European Commission Responsible for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs
"2010: Keeping up the good work"
Pleanary session of ACFA (Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture)
Brussels, 9 December 2009
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to be with you one final time at your plenary session. We will have much to talk about this afternoon. But before doing so, I would like to take a moment to review recent developments and look ahead to 2010.
I believe that we can look back on 2009 as a year of concrete achievements. However, more than that, the past year has also seen the start of our journey to radically reform our fisheries policy and make it fit for the 21st century.
As I have had occasion to say many times before, you the stakeholders, are the heart and soul of the reform process. Without you, it would be little more than a empty shell. So before going any further, allow me to thank you for your dedicated and hard work vis a vis the reform and in particular, for the opinion on the Green Paper that you adopted this morning. We have been following the work of your ad hoc group with much interest as your opinions will contribute greatly to our thinking on this important subject. While we might not always agree on everything, we can certainly find the best way forward by pooling different ideas and possible solutions together.
Turning now to the November Fisheries Council, you will know that Ministers were not able to agree on the Commission's proposal on technical measures. It was necessary for Member States to have more time to analyse the technical and economic impacts of this proposal. I believe this is something one has to understand and accept and now it will be for the European Parliament and the Council to negotiate this proposal through co-decision.
In order to bridge the time until this is done, the Council agreed on a regulation establishing transitional technical measures from 1 January 2010 to 30 June 2011. These are the same rules that were in place already in 2009, namely the high-grading ban for the North Sea, areas closed to fishing, the obligation to use devices that improve selectivity in certain fisheries and a number of derogations for Member States. This regulation has also extended the high grading ban to the Atlantic.
Further discussions will now take place under the co-decision procedure, with the European Parliament fully involved – and rightly so. We will work hard to find solutions that will help to further sustainability.
As you might well imagine, our ultimate goal is still to reduce and eradicate discards. In fact, our proposal sought to improve the selectivity of fishing gears in the Atlantic and North Sea and thus bring down discards by obliging fishermen to engage in higher selectivity by increasing mesh sizes.
The sector needs to accept more responsibility in developing, and using, more selective fishing gear. I know this is difficult – however it is also necessary. If the sector is not able to find solutions of its own, the Commission will inevitably need to actively intervene to reduce discards including, if necessary, the consideration of a discard ban.
The Council meeting coincided with the conclusion of the first round of annual consultations with Norway for 2010. This year's talks have had to contend with some tricky issues, including Norwegian access to mackerel fisheries in EU waters. The second round of talks ended last week without agreement and a third round came to a halt yesterday without achieving any positive outcome.
We shall continue to seek a balanced agreement with Norway that also produces a good deal for our fishermen.
In November, I also briefed the Council on the outcome of ICCAT's annual meeting in Brazil and the impact of its conclusions on EU tuna fleets. I understand that the severe cuts in catches, season and capacity, together with other conservation measures, will be a hard pill for the industry to swallow. That said, inaction was clearly not an option. ICCAT has, in the past, shown its stock management credentials and given the stocks concerned the chance to replenish. Overall, I would consider the outcome of the ICCAT meeting to be good news for the sustainability of the stocks, fisheries and fishing communities concerned.
Lastly, I informed the Council that next spring the Commission will launch a study to collect further information on the impact of fisheries on seabirds, with a view to devising effective mitigation measures. Alongside this, we encourage fishermen to further apply existing effective low-cost mitigation measures.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are now coming to the most critical part of the year for many in the catching sector and I know there are concerns about the fishing opportunities for 2010.
We want the sector's trust in the fisheries management system and we hope to see improved compliance. But handing out additional tonnes of fish or additional days at sea, while going against scientific advice and weakening the underlying stocks, is not the way to do it. In particular, simply increasing TACs to avoid discards is not a solution, because it does nothing to reduce overfishing.
We would also like to see the sector become more closely engaged with the management process.
I would therefore invite you to help develop a transparent and trustworthy fisheries management system and to accept to agree to abide by its results. We would welcome participation and contribution at all levels, whilst bearing in mind that we must respect the expertise of all concerned.
In preparing the 2010 fishing opportunities proposal, the Commission has used the same transparent, information-based procedures as in previous years. A small, but increasing, number of stocks is being fished according to MSY levels. We must build on this. As usual, all applicable long-term plans must be followed. The Commission has made TAC proposals in line with recent long-term plans and has heeded the declarations on TAC-setting rules for West Scotland haddock and Celtic Sea herring.
The Commission is also proposing TAC increases for eight stocks where scientific advice is positive. For 49 stocks it has limited TAC reductions to 15%, even though scientific advice advocated larger reductions. And for 10 stocks reductions beyond 15% have proven necessary.
I appreciate that the proposal still shows more reductions than increases. The only way to remedy this is to be consistent and rigorous in our application of conservation criteria, so that stocks rebuild and we achieve equilibrium between the fish in the sea and fishing. This will take some years, and yet, its only chance of success relies on you continuing to engage in and support this process.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Allow me to now take a brief look at what 2010 has in store for us.
The Control Regulation, approved by Council in October, will enter into force on 1 January 2010. Add to it the IUU and the fishing authorisations regulations, and we now have in place the three pillars of control policy under the CFP. The new Control Regulation will make for uniformity in the implementation of control policy, while respecting diversity and taking into account the specific characteristics of different fleets. A genuine level playing field for all operators will ensure that those who break the rules no longer benefit from doing so. We can now look forward to a more targeted, more effective, more streamlined and less costly system.
The CFP reform process will also move forward. The Commission will summarise the results of our consultation on the Green Paper. We will then start to work on our options for the future policy. The intention, at present, is to discuss them with you in the spring. The conference that the Spanish Presidency is preparing for May 2010 will provide one such opportunity. Towards the end of 2010, we will then start preparing the proposal. This will allow for its timely adoption by the Commission and for negotiations during 2011 and 2012.
We will also press ahead with our efforts to rebuild stocks in Community waters. In 2010 we can expect further discussions under the co-decision procedure on this year's proposals on Bay of Biscay anchovy, western horse mackerel and northern hake. In addition, the Commission plans to table proposals for multiannual plans for Celtic Sea herring, West Scotland haddock and, later in the year, southern hake. We will also be amending the effort regimes pertaining to western waters and deep-sea species.
Insofar as the adoption of the proposal on the reform of the common organisation of the market is concerned, I can understand your anxiety regarding the delay. However, we believe it makes more sense to integrate this pivotal issue into the general CFP framework. Moreover, this will be the first time that a CFP reform has reflected the relevance of market policy, and in particular the sector's role in carrying out that policy.
I would now like to say a word about Aquaculture with particular reference to the follow up to the Commission's Aquaculture Communication. The majority of actions foreseen at EU level are of a non-legislative nature and should be delivered over a period of 2 to 4 years. The others are of a continuing nature. A number of the measures are on track like the development of the animal health framework, the review of the methods to monitor the safety of shellfish for consumers etc… We are cooperating closely with other DGs in this regard. As far as legal instruments are concerned the new detailed rules on organic aquaculture were adopted last summer. The other major actions that would translate into possible legislation will be considered in the context of the CFP Reform, and the reflections on the associated financial instruments.
The ecolabelling process is ongoing. However, during the mandatory internal quality check that all proposals emanating from the Commission undergo, the Impact Assessment Board questioned the rationale for regulating at all, citing a lack of evidence being supplied on the existence of a problem or its exact nature. While I had hoped to see the minimum criteria come to fruition during my term in office, it will now be for the next Commission and my successor to handle it.
In the field of maritime policy, 2010 will see us build further on our achievements in a number of areas, of which I will mention just a few here.
In April 2010 we are planning the launch of the Atlas of the Seas, which will raise the profile of Europe's maritime dimension and increase public awareness of the various uses of our oceans and seas. To coincide with this, we will also be launching our maritime policy forum, an interactive tool designed to strengthen contacts with and between stakeholders. I am glad to see that ACFA is pioneering the use of this tool during its test phase.
Work will be proceeding apace in 2010 on the EMODNET, or the Marine Knowledge Network, with its challenging vision of making data collected in the EU from many different sources, available to a wide range of users across sectors and national borders.
And the 2010 European Maritime Day in Gijón, Spain will be another opportunity for stakeholders to showcase Europe's great maritime power.
All in all, I believe we can now say that the Integrated Maritime Policy has truly "arrived". This is in no small measure thanks to you, the stakeholders, who have embraced this policy and shown a great resolve to make it work. I can now say with confidence – and pride – that the Integrated Maritime Policy has achieved considerable progress in its initial phase and should move on, in the forthcoming Commission's mandate, towards its consolidation.
Before I conclude, just one final word on an issue of crucial importance to us all.
The Lisbon Treaty will mark a turning point for fisheries decision-making in the European Union. I believe that we all have much to gain from this, and I am confident that institutions and stakeholders alike will rise to the challenge and responsibility of bringing co-decision to fisheries policy. The closer involvement of Europe's parliamentary representatives can only be a good thing when it comes to ensuring that everyone's voice is heard.
I have not been able, in the short time available to me, to cover all issues of importance to ACFA. I hope that we will, nevertheless, find time to deal with them in the discussion that is to follow.
Ladies and gentlemen,
A new Commission will be taking office in the near future, and a new fisheries commissioner, Mrs. Maria Damanaki, will be starting work.
It is time for me to bid a fond farewell to a job which I have been honoured to carry out for the past five years. It has truly been a privilege to work with you all, and I am confident that you will show to my successor the same sincere goodwill as you have shown to me. I believe that in the past few years we have made huge strides towards cementing the foundations for a vibrant, sustainable future for our fisheries sector, maritime communities and marine environment.
You have my heartfelt best wishes for your future efforts to keep up this good work.