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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Bringing the CFP Reform forward
Plenary Meeting of the Committee of the Regions
Brussels, 15 February 2012
Dear President, dear Mr. Struk, dear Committee Members,
Today is an important day, because your Committee is the first European body to issue a daft opinion on our fisheries reform.
You can be very proud of this timely work and the report of Mr. Struk shows how deep the understanding of this Committee is when it comes to the problems that our fishing industry is facing today: an unprofitable way of managing fisheries, loosing jobs, and a lack of economic and social stability. I know that we agree on these problems and I hope that we can agree on the solutions as well. Judging from the draft report that you are going to vote on later today I believe that we have a lot of common ground and I sincerely thank Mr Struk, who did an exemplary job drawing up this report.
Mr. Struk and the NAT Section of this Committee have understood the importance of bringing our coastal regions out of the crises – and that the best way to do this is by having a healthy and profitable fishing industry.
More in particular, you support our conservation strategy with long term plans at its heart. I am very happy about that, because it is exactly those long term plans that give the industry the stability and economic resilience they need.
But let's not forget ladies and gentlemen, the way towards this resilience is a rocky one. In a number of fisheries there will be difficult times with less fishing possibilities, before quotas can be increased again. And therefore we have to do our job right and help the fishing industry cope with this transition with the new European Maritime and Fisheries Funds. I want to make the transition as smooth as possible for all people concerned.
This is why I have proposed a new Fund to help fishermen adapt to new requirements; and to foster community-led development and push local economies to diversify their activities.
Some of you come from coastal regions; you know how important fisheries are for local communities. Fisheries do not exist in a vacuum. They are interwoven into the local socio-economic fabric. That is why we need to do two things here. First we need to help local economies look beyond fishing. And second we also need to help them make the most of jobs in fishing itself by rebuilding fish stocks. With the help of MSY we are on the right track, because today I am proud to say that we have 20 stocks fished at MSY and that from 2011 to 2012 we were therefore able to increase quotas sustainably and allow fishermen to have an extra profit of 135 million € across Europe. And this is only the increase from 2011 to 2012.
Increased profits are important for the whole fishing industry, whether we talk about the 25 meter trawler or about the 12 meter small scale boat. But we all know that the small scale boats play a special role in our coastal fabric. They are the lifeblood of our coastal communities. Eight out of ten fishing vessels in the EU are less than 12 meters long. And they employ forty per cent of our sector's workforce. They create local employment, not only in the catching sector, but also in the spin-offs of processing, marketing and auxiliary services. Their value goes beyond mere economics; they are the very social fabric that keeps our coastal regions going.
This is why I have decided to better support small vessels under the new CFP by increasing the public aid part from 60 to 75 % where a vessel owner wants to invest in more selective gear or in modernisation over deck to improve working conditions. I know this is an important issue for you and I am really glad that we are on the same page here.
But this fund is not only about people in coastal areas it is also about inland regions: I have made it a priority to use this fund to boost our aquaculture sector, whether we are talking about carp farming in Austria or trout ponds in the Slovak Republic. This sector and also marine aquaculture of course is hugely important. We have neglected aquaculture for far too long in Europe. This sector has an immense growth potential and can create many jobs also in processing and marketing. Moreover we need to invest in aquaculture, because it can help us decrease our dependency on imports.
Let me make a huge jump now from the carp ponds in Lower Austria to the external fisheries policy. I am very pleased that again here we share the same objectives, namely sustainable fisheries agreements built on the same principles as EU fishing and respecting human rights and international obligations. We need these agreements and we can design them to be a win – win situation for the third countries and for our own long distance fleet.
Coming back to the EU Mr Struk's report also shows that you favour our proposal to regionalise fisheries management. You in the regions have understood the benefits of regionalisation long before we as Commission have proposed it. You know the local challenges and needs. And I am sure that you in the Member States can take the right decisions closer to the fishing communities. But regionalisation is also about the stakeholders, especially the fishing industry who needs to have a role in designing fisheries measures and in taking over real management tasks.
So you see that we agree on many things. But let me now take a few minutes to focus on three elements of our reform where there are varying views in this committee: this is MSY 2015, the discard ban and transferable fishing concessions.
Let me start with MSY 2015. Many say the date is not realistic. But did you know that we moved from two stocks at MSY in 2005 to 20 stocks at MSY in 2012? Mr Struk himself has seen it happening at his doorstep. Eastern Baltic cod, a stock that used to be severely overfished, is on its way to sustainable levels; and because of that the fishermen's income has been increasing since 2009.
There is not just cod in the Baltic. There is also anchovy in the Bay of Biscay, North Sea Herring, Northern hake and many more.
So maybe some of you will now ask, well why then do we need a reform? I can tell you why, because we need to enshrine MSY in the new policy, so that we do not have to fight for this every year during the quota negotiations with Member States. So here I am pleading with all those among you who still have doubts about MSY 2015. It can be done, so please help me stop the annual horse trading by enshrining MSY 2015 in the new policy.
If there is anything to be learnt from past experience in fisheries, it is that the absence of strict deadlines has systematically been used to delay action in an irresponsible way. It is irresponsible, because it means postponing better financial salaries for fishermen.
The same applies to the second hot issue: the discard ban. We have to stop throwing dead fish overboard. Consumers are saying this louder and louder. And the fishermen themselves agree.
In France, the Netherlands, the UK, Spain… large retail companies are delisting species from their supply, either because the stocks are endangered or because non-selective fishing techniques are used.
European retailers are acting for sustainability in their sourcing policy; fishermen are finding ways to fish more selectively. We need to do our own job: we collectively need to deliver on the discards problem.
The first thing to do is phase out discards in all commercial fisheries. We will do it step by step. And we are starting by improving gear selectivity. Please do not picture hundreds of lorries transporting undersized fish to fish meal factories. This is not our intention. What is our intention is to change fishing techniques so that juveniles are not landed in the first place, as much as this is possible. Where it isn't possible this undersized fish should indeed go to fishmeal production. I think it is important for you to know that there are already at least 70 anti discard initiatives from the industry itself in Europe and we will support the industry financially from the new fund in those initiatives and in implementing the ban, be it on selective gears, innovation or marketing. We have to do this, because otherwise, consumers will decide for us and may boycott perfectly good products simply because they no longer accept the waste that goes with them.
Here again I see hesitation in some of the amendments, and hesitation would dilute the results. Again: if we do not set on ourselves strict – but, realistic – deadlines, we will only give our opponents new excuses for inaction.
Please do not give in to such calls for postponement.
Now one last hot issue: transferable fishing concessions. I have been branded as a liberal, because I proposed them. But I think you know that I am not available for liberalisation. I know that many of you fear that TFCs may lead to concentration, and that safeguards will not prevent this. I understand your concerns and I certainly don't want to see this in Europe. I think by exempting small-scale fleets, which make up 80% of the EU fleet, we can prevent that. And Member States can introduce their own additional safeguards as well.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen,
We need a real reform, because our coastal communities deserve more than they are getting today. They deserve higher landings, higher incomes and more jobs in the fishing industry itself.
Therefore I am asking you to put any political divides aside and to focus together with me on this goal that we both want for the fishermen and their families. They deserve not to worry how to repay loans, they deserve not to worry how to pay for their kids education. This is what it is all about and we have to do our part for the Europe 2020 strategy. An independent organisation, the New Economics Foundation, has found that we could have an extra 1,8 billion € for the fishing industry and an extra 80.000 jobs in fishing and related industries if we manage fisheries right. Citizens are looking to us to give them an economic outlook that is better than today. So we cannot afford to say "later". I am asking you to help us make it possible.
We need your opinion today to support the Commission's reform plan. When you vote today, please reflect on the rationale of the proposals and on the logic behind each of the target dates we have set.