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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Opening speech : "Taking science as our starting point"
Seminar 'State of European Fish Stocks in 2010'
Borchette Centre, Brussels, 14 September 2010
Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to our seminar on Scientific advice.–This event today is my first seminar of this kind since I became Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. So I for one am looking forward to today's discussions. I am very impressed with the turnout today. It goes to show just how important the issues before us are.
We are at that point in the year where proposals on the coming year's fishing opportunities are debated and finalised. There will be a lot of debate and, inevitably, some disappointments that fishing opportunities again have to be adjusted in a way people do not like. There will be many discussions about getting more tonnes of this or that fish; and there are topics that people feel strongly about.
Looking further ahead, later next year the Commission will begin making its proposals for a new Common Fisheries Policy. In line with our aim of achieving a root-and-branch reform of the CFP, we will look into a whole array of issues. This will range from financial aid and regionalisation to tradable fishing rights and support for small-scale fishermen. I have no doubt that we will be caught up in a whirlwind of fresh and challenging ideas as we go about putting this landmark reform in place.
But we cannot set about building a robust CFP until we have laid solid foundations – in other words, until we have got the fundamentals of fisheries management clear in our minds.
This brings me to scientific advice. There are no two ways about it: taking science as our starting point is the only possible approach. There is no other one. This means it is up to us to ensure that scientists actually get the information they need to make their assessments. I am sorry to say that that does not always happen in practice. There are still too many cases where information is lacking, where the information itself suggests that something is actually wrong with the data, or where fish that should be there are missing. In addition, the data for some stocks suffers from contradictions and shows large amounts of discards or illegal landings. And there are also too many cases of Member States not fulfilling their obligations in collecting data – particularly on discarding.
If the bottom-up philosophy we want for the reformed CFP is to succeed, we will have to show that we take such matters seriously. This means implementing measures properly at local level to demonstrate that regionalisation is worth doing. We have to show that regionalisation can truly be a post-reform foundation stone for fisheries policy and help bring down fishing mortality. We are not facing an impossible task here.
So today we need to reflect on the really basic issues in fisheries management.
The fish that, as part of the marine ecosystem, help maintain our seas' good environmental status.
The fish that provide the employment and the income for the catching sector, processors and local communities.
The fish that provide food for consumers.
The fish that, when left in the sea, have a chance to grow, to reproduce and to provide more catch for the future.
Fisheries management – my job – is about striking the right balance between catching fish today and leaving them in the sea for tomorrow.
So I am happy that today we can hear presentations from leading experts, who will tell us how fish stocks have fared in recent years, what good and bad experiences we have had with the most important fish stocks, and what the economic consequences have been.
Today, we can take the space and the time to look into the hard data on the state of fish stocks in our waters. I am sure there are many lessons to be learned, and I thank the experts who have travelled here today to help guide us through these many statistics.
And perhaps most importantly, today we can use this event to discuss and examine in depth issues close to our hearts – whether we are fishermen, scientists, environmentalists, politicians, consumers or merely interested observers. Events such as this seminar do not come around very often, so I urge you all to make the most of the time we have here today to exchange ideas and find common ground.
I will leave it at that for now, because we have a lot to get through today. I wish you all a productive day's work.