European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
The fishermen as "guardians of the sea"
"Waste-free Oceans" conference
Oostende, 8 November 2011
Dear organisers, ladies and gentlemen,
The human population has just reached seven billion and is still growing.
We are running out of land and water resources, so are looking to the sea to provide food and energy for these people.
We are moving back to the sea.
But what sort of sea are we moving to? We cannot afford to damage a resource whose potential we are only beginning to understand.
We know that wildlife can be trapped in discarded fishing nets. We know that pieces of plastic have been found in the stomachs of birds and fish from the tropics to the poles. Littering the oceans and seas shows a lack of respect for our environment and a lack of concern about the planet that our children and grandchildren will live on.
Clearly we need to stop dumping rubbish in the oceans. Much of the legislation – on landfills, on recycling targets, on port reception facilities - is already in place and we need to focus on strengthening and implementing it.
But even if we stop all new waste, we have to clean up what is already there; and here fishermen can play the leading role. Nobody knows the sea more than them. Nobody knows better than them how to collect objects that are floating near the surface or deposited on the sea bed.
In fact fishermen have already been active for some time. Some German environmental organisations, local authorities in the North Sea and Baltic and in Galicia have organised the distribution of rubbish sacks to fishermen, the deployment of collection facilities in ports and the safe disposal through recycling or incineration of the waste that fishermen find in their nets.
The KIMO group alone, in the North Sea and Baltic, removed more than 400 tonnes in 2010.
You wouldn't believe what they bring back to port. As well as discarded fishing gear, they find plastic bottles, cans, shoes and tennis rackets….
In France and in Sweden some of this has been supported by the EU through the European Fisheries Fund.
When we talk to Member States' authorities, they tell us that those involved – the authorities, the environmental groups and especially the fishermen - are highly committed to their role as "guardians of the sea". Others who are not yet involved are eager to see how it can be done.
The waste free oceans project that we have come to launch today could be a milestone. I sincerely welcome the willingness of the plastics industry to do its part.
It also marks the end of a first phase. Up to now the initiatives that have taken place have been national, local or limited to certain types of operation.
We are now entering a second, more coordinated, phase where we try to put together all these initiatives.
We need to see where the hot spots are and identify the most effective techniques for cleaning the seas and disposing safely of the waste. The new financial instrument for the integrated maritime policy will support this gathering of knowledge and the European Parliament has proposed a pilot project that will also contribute.
As I said, the European Fisheries Fund can play a part. The fund in place can be used to remove litter from the sea – whether by collecting discarded fishing gear, disposing of waste found in the course of fishing, investing in port disposal facilities or making special trips to collect litter.
We are currently planning how the fund should operate from 2014 onwards and we are aiming to cut the red tape and make it easier for such schemes to be supported.
This will not only help clean up the oceans – it will also promote new job opportunities for fishers.
With the lessons learnt from these actions and from this Waste-Free Oceans initiative, we will then be able to move to a third, more operational clean-up phase - a public-private partnership that will help us contribute to achieving the EU's goal of good environmental status in marine waters by 2020.
Dear organisers, ladies and gentlemen,
You have my personal thanks and congratulations for this initiative. Keep up the good work.