European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
The reform of the Common Fisheries Policy: what's in it for Ireland
Speech at the Institute of International and European Affairs
Dublin, 22 September 2011
President, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning and thank you for having me. This institute has this famous tradition of organising high level dialogue events
So I feel all the more honoured for this opportunity to show you the Irish side of the coin.
I am aware that I am not presenting the fisheries reform just anywhere: this is a country that suffers tremendously from the present economic juncture.
Trust me, I can understand from my own experience how the Irish people must feel today.
The economic downturn, the fear of losing your job, and that question gnawing at you from the back of your mind: will I be able to provide for my family? How will I pay the mortgage or school tuition?
I also know that this feeling of uncertainty is something that European fishermen have had to cope with since well before the recession.
In fact for many of them, the downturn started many years ago when the fish in our waters became scarcer and scarcer.
Even in Ireland, the economic performance of the fleet has been deteriorating since the late nineties. A particularly dark year was 2007, when profits went down 43% compared to the previous year. Between 2003 and 2007, the Irish fleet increased its time at sea by eleven percent– and yet, the total volume of landings decreased by ten percent! And the trend is even more dramatic in other countries of Europe.
Why? What went wrong?
Well, basically we have been fishing too much. We have been carelessly throwing away unwanted catches. And we have let our fleet become obese.
This is the inconvenient truth: there are simply fewer and fewer fish to catch. Seventy-five percent of our stocks are overfished.
True, over the last decades we have been decommissioning a lot of vessels as a countermeasure. Just think that between 2000 and 2006 alone, we pumped over 906 million euro into scrapping.
But as we get rid of older vessels, new ones are still being built and others are upgraded – and these are technologically more advanced than the older models.
So every year the Union's fleet capacity actually increases by three percent.
906 million € is a lot of taxpayers' money spent for virtually no result, ladies and gentlemen.
We have to break this vicious circle we are in: there is less fish, so we resort to more fishing effort and more powerful boats, which leads to even less fish, so we deploy even more power and effort and so on.
According to our modelling exercises, if nothing changes only 8 fish stocks out of 136 will be at sustainable levels by 2022.
Our industry will then face even more economic pressure, particularly small-scale fisheries. We will loose more jobs, and not just in the fishing sector itself: also in processing, in transport, port infrastructure, packaging and retail.
Imagine the impact on Ireland with its coastal regions, whose economies rely on fishing. For Ireland, with its 900 miles of coastline, and no place more than 60 miles from the coast, this would be devastating.
This is why I want things to change. I want fisheries to be a source of wealth for fishermen and their families and for coastal communities.
Hence my vision for the future, which is centred on the principles of Sustainability, Efficiency and Coherence.
Sustainability is the heart of my reform.
To have environmental sustainability, we need to bring all stocks to sustainable levels by 2015. Besides, we committed to this internationally.
This means that we can keep fishing. But we have to manage each fish stock in such a way that we can get maximum financial gain while still keeping the stock sustainable.
A second thing we need to do for sustainability is stop waste by stopping to chuck fish overboard that is already killed.
Discarding is morally and environmentally unacceptable. It is being strongly questioned by consumers, who are becoming more and more concerned with sustainability issues – and quite rightly, in my opinion.
We have to phase out discards gradually in all fisheries in a step by step approach. And it will have to be combined with better gear selectivity and with proper support for the industry to implement it.
Then we need to ensure economic sustainability.
In 2008 the World Bank and the FAO published a study called "The Sunken Billions". This study shows that the difference between the potential and the actual net economic benefits from global marine fisheries is about 50 billion US dollars per year. If we rebuild fish stocks, we can capture a substantial part of this huge economic loss.
But we also need to change the way we take decisions – and improve Efficiency.
Today even the most detailed technical decisions - like: what mesh size can a trawler from How th use when fishing for prawns? – have to be taken at the highest political level in the European machinery.
When I first took office in February 2010, I was shocked at the amount of minute rules we produce. This may seem as an internal matter to you, but if you think about it, this kind of micro-management is very costly for the taxpayers - and that includes you.
By contrast to that, I want to decentralize. For example, let's say that the European Parliament and Council set a long-term plan for prawns in the Irish Sea with specific objectives, like keeping the fish stocks sustainable.
The Member States which fish for prawns in the Irish Sea then take measures themselves: Ireland could decide to use specific gear; the UK could limit the days at sea or close the fishery for two months; and so on.
What counts for us is not how you achieve the objective, but only that you do achieve them.
Put it this way: the EU must be the lighthouse, showing the way. But it is Member States and industry which steer the ship.
Such a decentralised policy is simpler to implement and much cheaper for the taxpayer.
And the plus side for Ireland and its coastal communities is that they have to deal with far less top-down rules from Brussels and can better devise measures together with the industry!
This is a crucial point, because I think that we have made a huge mistake in the past: we have not involved the industry sufficiently; we have not taken full advantage of their immense expertise and know-how.
From now on, fishermen organisations must be and feel responsible for managing fish stocks jointly with us and the national administrations. They can make sure quotas are not overshot, they can adopt more selective gear or they can promote responsible fishing with their members.
We also want to improve efficiency by introducing a system of transferable fishing concessions.
I know this is a sore point for Ireland. But bear with me for a moment.
It has been shown that with transferable rights the fleet adjusts to the available marine resources much better than with subsidies.
Fishing concessions also give operators flexibility to reduce discarding and adapt to quotas. If vessel owners are allowed to trade concessions, they can get themselves a tailored combination of quotas according to their actual fishing patterns.
I know the industry is worried here. But let me tell you: I have done my homework. I have listened to the concerns, and I have looked at what other countries, other continents are doing.
And I have come up with a system of safeguards that will work for Ireland, for small-scale fisheries and for bigger vessels.
First, transfers are limited to the national level. Second, only fishermen can acquire fishing concessions. Third, Ireland can exempt small-scale fleets from the system. Fourth, your government can set additional safeguards to avoid excessive concentration and ensure a real economic link between the Irish quotas and the coastal communities that depend on them.
We need to stop babysitting fishermen by giving them a quota only for the month ahead. With fishing concessions we trust them and give them security for several years. With fishing concessions we treat them like businessmen and give them security for several years. With fishing concessions we give them a chance to plan their activity and get venture capital or bank loans much more easily.
An example from Denmark: five years after introducing transferable concessions, the Danish pelagic fleet slimmed down by fifty percent and increased its income by ten percent. During the same period in Sweden, without transferable concessions, the pelagic fishermen were earning 25% less. So this is a difference of 35%, who would not want 35% more money in their pockets?
Ladies and gentlemen: this is the kind of result I want for the Irish fishermen - and I want it to show on their bank accounts!
Transferable fishing concessions will offer financial security also to those who want to leave the sector. This is what I call social sustainability, ladies and gentlemen.
Of course we need to finance the transition. Right now we are preparing the new Fisheries Fund, and we should use this opportunity to shift to promoting innovation, sustainability and smart and inclusive growth in coastal areas.
The third principle is coherence, meaning that all other facets of the policy, like market organisation, external dimension, aquaculture or subsidies, must be in line with the first two - sustainability and efficiency.
Proper labelling, for instance, is an essential aspect of this reform: I want consumers to make informed purchasing choices. There is quite a good example right here in Ireland, where "Fisherman Frank" developed the "Responsible Irish Fish" label to help consumers know what they buy and eat.
We are also acknowledging the crucial role of aquaculture. We must open up new opportunities for the Irish 100-million-euro worth fish-farming industry. This sector can bring growth to both coastal and inland areas and it deserves proper funding to help produce the excellent salmon, trout and shellfish that Ireland farms and the consumers expect.
Business security is crucial also for fish farmers; so I am setting up an open method that will allow national authorities to exchange best practices. Ireland will be able to get inspiration from what other countries are doing, and vice versa.
Coherence also means that our actions at international level must match our domestic goals and commitments. Our fleet working in the high seas under fishing agreements must be a model of sustainability, legality and good governance.
And finally coherence means financing the transition to a more sustainable way of fishing.
In closing, Ladies and Gentlemen, I know the reform has been on the press here in Ireland too. I know there is a lot of criticism and fear. People are worried.
Rest assured that I have looked at your concerns in detail and I will continue to do so in the future.
As your great writer James Joyce once said: "I am tomorrow what I establish today".
This is true; and if we want a better tomorrow for Ireland's fishing industry and coastal populations, then we need to embrace the change now. There is a lot in it for Ireland and for the Irish Fishing industry in this reform and rather than scaremongering fishermen about their future, we need to be truthful and present them the facts.