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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Fish stocks do not tolerate bad compromises
Conference "New Challenges and Opportunities facing Marine Fisheries Science",
London, 31 October 2011
Dear Chairman, ladies and gentlemen,
I am so pleased to be back here at the Fishmongers' Company and I thank you for inviting me. Actually your event today could not be more timely, because it was only 10 days ago that I negotiated fish quotas for the Baltic Sea. I have pointed out time and again that we have to base our decisions on scientific advice. There can be no other way, because fish stocks do not tolerate bad compromises. The Council agreed with me and I cannot praise it enough for being brave and setting quotas at sustainable levels. For this, Ladies and gentlemen, the Council deserves our applause and encouragement to continue down this road so that we can achieve sustainability also for North Sea and Atlantic fish stocks in the December negotiations.
We can already do a lot now for sustainability by setting quotas at right levels, but ultimately this job will only be accomplished if we manage to reform the Common Fisheries Policy from head to toe.
So let me therefore outline to you how I want to achieve this.
Let's start with some facts: there are fewer and fewer fish in the sea. Catches have constantly gone down since the nineties. We have fished too much. We have thrown away fish we don't want to land or for which we don't have quotas. And we have used taxpayer's money to build up our fleet. The result is that today seventy-five percent of our stocks are overfished.
According to our impacts assessment, if we don’t break this vicious circle only 8 fish stocks out of 136 will be sustainable by 2022.
This would be an economic disaster for our fishing industry, particularly small-scale fishermen, who cannot easily move to other waters.
We will loose more jobs in the catching sector, but also in processing, transport and port infrastructure – just imagine the negative effect for the coastal regions.
This will be the reality without a reform and we cannot let this happen.
Let me therefore give you in a nutshell my vision for the future: I want to go for sustainability as a whole. I am talking about environmental sustainability by moving to MSY 2015 and phasing out discards. I am talking about social sustainability, because we can build up healthy fish stocks in our waters and this is the best way to increase our fishermen's income.
I would like to achieve this by modernising the way we take decisions. I am proposing regionalization where the European Parliament and Council take leading decisions on long term plans and framework technical measures with basic rules. Then the fishing industry should work hand in hand with the national administrations to set more detailed rules on mesh sizes, area closures etc. And this is where the scientists have a vital role to play. We need their expertise to come up with new better fishing gears that are less harmful for the environment. We need their best advice on how to set fish quotas. But we also need to help scientists to do their job. Giving them only half the data does not help them in preparing solid advice and that is a big problem that we face now. We have a problem with data delivery and we need to tackle this. Without data there can be no proper scientific advice.
This is why I want to invest here and improve the co-operation between the fishing industry and the scientists. This is only possible if we responsibilise the fishing industry and empower them so that they deliver the data and also bring in their know how into fisheries management. Well, and then there is the black sea and the Mediterranean where I don't even know where to start. All I will say is that the huge lack of scientific information and the lack of co-operation with third countries is a big hurdle that we need to tackle, if we want to achieve sustainability also for those sea basins.
Let me now explain more in detail how I want to deliver sustainability with MSY and the discard ban. These two instruments are an absolute must if we want to be successful.
First MSY: We are moving towards MSY already on a number of fish stocks. I am talking about cod and herring in the Celtic sea and sole in the channel. These are a few examples. In these fisheries we based our decisions on scientific advice and fishermen have gone through difficult times with reduced quotas. But after a few years quotas were increased. The science based approach is the best to increase fishermen's income in a sustainable way and to keep jobs in the fishing industry, in the ports and in processing.
This is not wishful thinking, but it is based on our own impact assessment for the CFP reform and it is based on the findings of an internationally renowned study by the World Bank called "The sunken billions".
According to the World Bank we are worldwide loosing 50 billion Dollars with short term fisheries management. Our modelling exercises have shown that we can generate an extra 2,7 billion Euros for our fishing industry. Managing stocks sustainably leads to 17 percent more catches, profit margins three times higher, and returns on investments six times higher!
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what I call sustainability on all fronts.
Second, the discard ban: We have to stop throwing away fish that is already killed, quota or no quota. The fishing industry knows this and in a number of regions in Europe they are trying to fish more selectively. These fishermen have understood that if we don't take the decision to stop discards, then the consumers will take that decision for us.
This is why I propose to phase out discards in all fisheries in a step by step approach. We will accompany this with better gear selectivity and with proper support for the industry to implement it.
With the ban over time we put less pressure on the stocks and again here there is a big advantage, because scientists will actually receive data on the whole outtake from the sea and not just on what was landed. I see this as a huge chance to fill this gap of uncertainty that we are faced with. And furthermore with the ban the fish will become bigger and fetch better market prices bringing more profits to fishermen.
This will also help us to achieve social sustainability.
But people also ask me "What are you going to do in the meantime until we reach this social sustainability?"
Obviously we need to finance the transition and I will present my plan on how to do this on 30 November. Let me give you some examples on what I will be proposing to finance. I would like to give fishermen storage aid to implement the discard ban. I will propose that fishermen participating in trials on more selective gears and fishermen collecting data should also receive a financial incentive for that.
I want to help small scale fishermen to meet and exchange ideas and best practises, but also to get organized so that they actually have a voice and therefore I propose to financially support social dialogue meetings for them. I will also fund marketing initiatives.
Finally I want to give aquaculture a financial boost for growth in both inland waters and in coastal areas. And again here we will need the help of scientists to help us develop in a sustainable manner marine agriculture, like algae farming, be it for food or non food purposes like pharmaceuticals. I am convinced that there are big potentials here for Europe that we can reap.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I am coming to the end of my intervention and I have not spoken in detail about other proposals in my reform package, such as transferable concessions or the external dimension of fisheries policy. This does not mean that they are not vital in this reform, to the contrary. I am happy to answer any questions you may have on these or other issues in our discussion today.
Let me end today by quoting one of the great men of your country. Winston Churchill one said: "A pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity, an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty." Yes indeed, coming to a "YES" on CFP Reform will be difficult, but I want us all to see the huge opportunities that lie ahead of us with a reformed and modern way of managing fisheries.