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Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Towards Sustainable Fishing

Conference on the Common Fisheries Policy Reform

Brussels, 16 November 2010

Good morning everybody,

Let me say thank you, Maria, for the invitation to today's event.

I know your job isn't easy. And I know you have shown a great deal of political courage and determination.

This event shows just how right you are to take the issue so seriously. This reform is a necessity. The current fisheries policy in many respects has to be improved.

But we need more than realisation when we discuss future fisheries policies – we need foresight, an open attitude and we need to speak to the people who can change things. This is why we are here – coincidentally one day before the beginning of ICCAT in Paris…our timing is really good.

For me, fisheries reform sits alongside my concerns for the marine environment. And in EU that means the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. Through this, we aim for good environmental status for European Seas by 2020…good environmental status means healthy and productive seas, with fishing kept at sustainable levels.

We need to move in a direction which means that fishing doesn't exterminate species – and un-do the good work we achieved building solid foundations for global action on biodiversity in Nagoya a few weeks ago. We agreed targets in Japan; this is now EU's commitment to itself and to the world. We must not undermine them through short-sightedness in other policies.

This is why I'm a strong supporter of CFP reform. I'm ready and willing to act with Maria, with Maire and whoever else I need to work with, to make sure we do the right thing. For fisheries, for seas and for all our sakes.

Maria, as a Greek, I'm sure you know that your forefathers believe in a God of the seas. As we know, he was called Poseidon…and he carried a trident, with three points…

And like Poseidon, we have three points too…our three main objectives:

  • To ensure that the objectives of our environmental policies - Marine Strategy Framework Directive, Natura, Biodiversity – and those formulated within the new CFP are fully consistent.

  • To build a CFP on good science. Without it, the CFP risks to be a sandcastle, washed away by next tide.

To make CFP governance strong, with good control, inspection and sanction systems.

These are not new ideas. I said as much to the European Parliament just before I started my mandate when I outlined my plans during my time as Environment Commissioner. There I spoke about integration, a science-based approach and implementation.

And these concepts are as relevant to the CFP as to any other policy area. And they all lead to our ultimate aims:

  • A new fisheries policy which lets fishermen earn their living, but not just today, also for tomorrow.

  • A new fisheries policy which doesn't jeopardise biodiversity or the conservation status of exploited species.

  • A new fisheries policy which lets us make better use of our dwindling marine resources. A policy which is crying out for a resource efficient approach. An approach – by the way - that is hard-wired into our EU strategy for 2020.

Action speaks louder than words, they say…so what do we need to do to build this new CFP?

We need a CFP that delivers ecological sustainability. This means we have to tackle a legacy of overfishing, discard and by-catch practices.

Our view of fishing needs to be transformed. We need to think first about what the sea is able to produce and then fish according to that - not the other way round. And for severely depleted stocks, a 'cap and restore' approach will have to be imposed. That is as much in the interest of people who care for environment as it is in the interests of fishermen.

Longer term, we have to apply the Maximum Sustainable Yield concept as the basic rule. Fishing within marine protected areas in Member State's territorial waters should be clearly regulated – just as it will be in the mid-Atlantic Area after the recent OSPAR decision. And Member States will need to follow agreed long-term management plans. These commitments will need to be matched by new innovations – using technology, research and science - to help us stop harmful by-catch and discard practices.

Please, now allow me some thoughts that extend beyond my direct responsibility. I am an economist, and we need to think economy when we think about fishing. Some regions are too reliant on the overcapacity of fishing fleets. Clearly this cannot continue. This will take a new CFP further into social territory. It will need to deal with the fall-out of the restructuring of the industry. It will have to help some fishermen find news ways to earn their living. These are proud and hardy people and they deserve public help in overcoming the social consequences of the simple fact that there is less fish than they could catch. But public funding for any increase of fishing capacity and fishing power has to stop.

Reform will be necessary in other areas too. Particularly when it comes to governance. Because sustainable exploitation will need better control, inspection and sanctions. I'm afraid the "culture of compliance" within the sector is too weak. In this context, the issue of illegal, un-reported and unregulated fishing is an unfortunate and very sad example. This lack of ownership, lack of trust and lack of communication between all stakeholders must be dealt with in a new CFP. If not, then we risk creating not only a new, but also an isolated policy lacking trust.

Reforming the Regional Advisory Councils would be one way of beefing up control and governance. This would make them both more inclusive and more accountable. Whatever the chosen governance system, it will only deliver if this new ownership by stakeholders in sufficiently framed by public authorities who are committed to enforcing the decisions; such is the experience gained through the implementation of environmental policies.

I spoke earlier about using science and research to help deal with the technical problems such as by-catch and discard. Science has other uses too. Especially when it comes to supplying the data for better-decision making. We know more than ever about the science and scope of our ecosystems these days. We can transpose that knowledge onto a system of management for fisheries, which will help it 'plug into' the wider environmental and sustainable landscape in a way that it has never been before.

Ladies and Gentlemen

Back in March this year, I spoke at an event hosted by the Forum for the Future of Agriculture. I said then that farmers, other land-users and environmentalists have a huge common interest, and that it would be wise if they worked together.

Now don't worry, I know we are here talking about the CFP…and not the CAP, but the parallels are there for all of us to see.

When we think about what we need from a new CFP…it's obvious to me that environmental concerns have to be built in. And I mean built in, not added on as an afterthought. We are not there yet. But the positive thing for me is that we are now probably better prepared than ever to understand that and to achieve it.

We should avoid the reform process becoming a fight between environmentalists and fishermen. Because they/you share the same goal at least in the long run - plentiful seas.

This would therefore be a fight that NO-ONE could ever win, not even the God of the Seas.

A fight that would mean the tide going out forever on our hopes for the richness of our seas and for a strong, but sustainable and economically workable fisheries industry. And we need both!

Thank you for your attention.

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