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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Discards – the way forward in the E uropean Union
Seminar : Renewal of the EU Fisheries Policy – minimised bycatch and ban on discards
Stockholm, 23 November 2011
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to thank the Royal Academy for organizing this important event. Today we are discussing an issue that has made close to 770 000 citizens across Europe sign a petition to end discards as a top priority in the reform of our policy.
If the failure of the Common Fisheries Policy can be seen somewhere then it is clearly in the hundreds of thousands tonnes of food we waste every year by throwing perfectly good fish overboard. Let's look at some figures. According to the FAO the North East Atlantic has the second highest discard rate in the world with 1,3 million tonnes of fish thrown overboard every year, and we are the major culprits here. In the North Sea they estimate that between 500 000 and 880 000 tonnes of fish are discarded every year.
This means we could feed between 200 000 and 350 000 people each year on the food that we throw away. I don't have to explain to you how morally wrong we are in light of such figures in the current economic climate.
Today I would like to explain to you why we need to end discarding and how I have proposed that we should achieve this.
Let me at the start make an important observation. Often we take the easy road and we blame the fishing industry for discards. I think time has come to set the record straight: I don't think it is fair to blame them, because let's face it, they are in a box of our construction.
For decades we have set the rules on quotas. We set the rules on minimum landing sizes and we set the rules on catch composition. So let us be honest and acknowledge that discarding is not something the fishing industry has invented out of mere pleasure, but it is, and I hate to say it, the brainchild of EU legislation. Yes, of course there is also discarding, because fishermen want to make a profit, but ladies and gentleman, by and large I have come to see that fishermen are not the drivers of discards, but we – the policymakers - are.
I have brought with me a compilation of over 70 projects from the fishing industry to reduce discards. These bottom up industry initiatives stretch from the Atlantic to the Baltic and even to the Mediterranean (at this point in speech you could show coverpage of European Fisheries Technology Platform compilation of discard reduction projects). Just the other day I received an e-mail from a Regional Advisory Council proposing concrete measures to reduce discards for the Mediterranean Sea.
Many of these projects have delivered concrete results: in Brittany and in Sweden prawn fishermen are using special nets to avoid unwanted bycatch. In Northern Ireland fishermen are now using nets that decrease whitefish discards by half and I could continue this list for another hour, but I am afraid by then you will have all fallen asleep.
But putting jokes aside, maybe you will now ask me, well Commissioner if that is the case why then propose a top down discard ban? Let me tell you, there are four reasons:
First, because even those 70 projects are just a drop in the ocean when it comes to tackling this problem at the root.
Second, because those 70 projects will not change consumer's perception that fishing is a wasteful practise. Retailers are now responding to sustainability concerns. I need to tell you that this perception is gaining ground in Europe. The campaign that started in the UK has already moved to the rest of Europe. I don't want to have a situation where fish is left on the shelves of supermarkets, because consumers switch to other sources of protein. This would be bad for our fishing industry and bad for the consumers. Fish is rich in Omega 3 and DHA, a fatty acid that is essential for good brain and heart functions. So we have to help fish keep its good name and we have to help consumers so that they can still buy fish with a good conscience. But it is not just about the consumers, it is also about good old common sense and this takes me to the third reason.
The third reason is that technology to reduce discards exists, but fishermen are not using it on a wide scale, because they have to invest in new gear and because they loose part of the target species. This means any fisherman who uses more selective gear puts himself at a competitive disadvantage relative to others engaged in same fishery. The only way to have a level playing field here is to have a discard ban. This will benefit the fishermen that are already doing something against discards, because their competitors have to play by the same rules.
The fourth reason is, because the world's population is growing and so is their demand for fish. Fish provides the world population with 20% of its animal protein, but in coastal areas of Asia fish is actually the main protein source for some one billion men and women. We import over 60 % of the fish we consume and a lot comes from the part of the world where the population is growing fastest. In light of this I can promise you that third countries will not be able to export their fish to Europe forever, because they will need it to feed their own population. So we simply need to stop discarding to help rebuild our own fish stocks.
So let's see how we tackle the discard problem. One thing is clear we cannot stop over night, therefore I have proposed a phased in discard ban on commercial species starting in 2014 with pelagic fisheries, and covering all other commercial species by 2016.
How will this work in practise? Well, let me give you some details so that you see how complex the discard ban is for our mixed fisheries. First of all Member States have to make sure that fishermen have access to quotas for those fish, which they are likely to catch. Today that is not always the case. Furthermore the fishing industry itself should propose the best selective gears to avoid unwanted by-catches in the first place, such as juvenile fish. These gears exist for many fisheries, but how do we help fisheries where such gear is not yet developed? Here we actually need the help of gear technicians and scientists to come up with new fishing techniques. Obviously this will not happen overnight.
Then everything that is hauled up needs to be landed and counted against quotas. If it is undersized fish, it will go to fishmeal production so as not to create a market for juveniles. But what about the handling costs for fishermen? The cost for fishermen to handle less valuable fish will be supported by the new Maritime and Fisheries Fund, but obviously they are not going to make a huge profit here.
All fish that is hauled up and is above the minimum size can be marketed freely. But what happens if a vessel owner runs out of quota for one of the species he is likely to catch or even worse, what happens if he is catching fish for which he never had a quota? Theoretically he would have to stop the fishery for this species or else he has to buy or lease quota from his producer organisation or from another fisherman. And what happens if it is November and all the cod quotas have already been sold or leased? Maybe to cover for those cases Member States should establish by catch quotas and apportion them over the year.
And maybe there is a control expert here in the room and he will ask himself "How on earth is all of this going to be properly controlled and implemented?". I will be very frank with you. We cannot do it alone. We need the fishing industry to be part of the discard ban, to internalize the ban and accept it as the framework in which they do business. The commitment of the industry will be key to being successful.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you can see tackling discarding is a complex issue and we cannot let the industry stand in the rain with no help. This is why I am also proposing to support them financially from the new Maritime and Fisheries Fund which I will present next week. Here I am foreseeing funding possibilities to buy more selective gear and to fund innovation. I am foreseeing a better co-operation between scientists and fishermen and gear technologists. Fishermen will also receive financial support for participating in trials to reduce discards and we will fund the building of storage mechanisms on shore and pay for marketing initiatives to interest consumers. In the UK sales of lesser known fish have gone up 45% after the TV shows on sustainable consumption. I believe that if it can work in the UK, it can work in Sweden and elsewhere.
But let us not be mistaken. We have a lot of convincing work to do on the discard ban, because you here in Sweden are maybe convinced of it, but this is not the case for may other countries. Those of you who have read Greek Mythology, or maybe I should say who were forced to read Greek mythology in school, will know the character of Sisyphus who had to roll a huge rock up the hill over and over again. This is exactly what we have to do with the discard ban. Trying to convince other European countries that we need this ban is almost like rolling a huge rock up the hill, and the Council of Ministers is throwing a lot of questions in our direction on the way up the hill, such as will a discard ban mean less earnings for fishermen? Will it bring higher quotas? What if Member States catch fish for which they don't have a quota and so on?
So you see designing a system with answers to all these questions is a real challenge. And here I will need your help to convince others that we are right, when we ask for a discard ban. And this takes me right away to the excellent initiative by Sweden, Denmark and Norway to ban all discarding by their vessels in the Skaggerak as of January 2013. Your initiative is paramount and it will indeed send a strong signal for others to follow.
Let me here quote a famous Swede. Dag Hammerskjöld (Former UN Secretary General) has said: "Never for the sake of peace and quiet give up your conviction." The discard ban is my conviction and I sincerely hope that it is yours as well, because I need your help to reform the Common Fisheries Policy. We need you to express your views clearly about what you think should happen to this policy. This is the only way to convince everybody, be it MS or Members of the European Parliament, that this policy has to be turned around to become a policy that makes sense.
We must end the idea of infinite resources. There is no way that discarding can still be allowed in a reformed CFP. This reform is our chance to act, and the discard ban has to be part of it, because otherwise we are all complicit in continuing what cannot be described as anything else but an environmental disaster.