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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Working together towards sustainability
Keynote address on Common Fisheries Policy reform to Inter-Parliamentary Committee meeting (European Parliament - National Parliaments)
Brussels, 28 February 2012
Dear Mr Chair, Members of the European Parliament, Members of the national Parliaments,
I would like to thank you for inviting me here today to discuss the fisheries reform with you. As I said in October when we last met, I am convinced that a greater involvement of national parliaments will improve the quality and the ownership of this reform.
That is why I have already visited a number of your national parliaments and I intend to visit as many as possible before the adoption of the reform proposals [two weeks from now, I will be at a joint session of the competent committees of the Italian Senate and Chamber of Deputies].
I have listened to your views and read your opinions with great interest.
Broadly speaking, I see that there is general consensus on the need for reform. We are all convinced that we need to shift to a more sustainable approach; that good and lasting economic performance for our industry can only come from healthy stocks.
Sure, some would have wanted an even more ambitious set of proposals; others are rather critical; others still agree on almost every point. But we have one thing in common and that is that we all want to get this reform right and reverse the decline of the sector.
I find this common ground – and the attention that each of you is putting into the proposals - very encouraging.
But let us look at some of the more controversial points. There is one recurring criticism in several opinions: the mandatory character of changes.
Let's look for example at Maximum Sustainable Yield by 2015: most of you say "yes", but would like to add "where possible".
The discard ban: you say yes in principle, but we need more time and flexibility.
Transferable Concessions: yes again, but please not mandatory. And so on.
We need a more binding approach in our reform. We can not avoid political responsibilities. "Where possible" may mean "never". Without deadlines, without a specific target for implementation, we will postpone again and this reform will fail.
I know the target dates we have set are strict and difficult and sometimes soon. But this is the only way that we can provide for a viable future for our fishermen. Getting to sustainable exploitation is an urgent matter; we need to draw a precise roadmap with realistic, but progressive and concrete milestones.
Take for example MSY. If we are to achieve sustainable levels for all the stocks, we must set a target date for it. For some of you, it should not be 2015. I think it should, for at least three reasons.
The first: working towards MSY can be done and has been done quickly in a number of fisheries. In 2009, out of 38 stocks assessed, only 5 of them were at sustainable levels; now we have 20.
Eastern Baltic cod, a stock that used to be severely overfished up until recently, is on its way to sustainable levels; the same is true for anchovy in the Bay of Biscay, North Sea Herring, Northern hake… We have let the stock recover for a few years and now quotas and revenues are on the rise. So it is possible.
The second reason: when we relieve fishing pressure, very quickly more catches can be made, as the fish grow in size and weight. It also becomes easier to catch them, reducing the costs of fishing and increasing the profits.
Like the World Bank last year, this month an independent body, the New Economics Foundation, reminded us once again of the huge potential of good fisheries management. They say that every year in the EU27 the fishing industry could have an extra 1.8 billion euro - almost three times the subsidies we grant; and we could create around 83 thousand jobs – a third of the current employment in the EU fishing sector, if stocks were restored to MSY levels
In the current economic climate, we can't afford to miss these opportunities. We have it in our hand to start the recovery of the industry, of coastal regions. We cannot afford to say "later". Reaching MSY is an economic imperative.
And the third reason: re-building fish stocks by 2015 is a legal obligation under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation of 2002 – both of which the European Union has signed, together with other partners. Do we really want to show the international community that we simply give up, when we argue for the EU leading the fight for a better environment?
Let me now come to the discard ban. We will implement it gradually and we need to find pragmatic solutions for mixed fisheries.
Public opinion is massively against discards. Right now there are at least seventy anti-discard initiatives around Europe. Either by the fishermen, who are finding ways to fish more selectively; or by European retailers, who are delisting species from their supply whenever stocks are endangered or non-selective fishing techniques are used.
Through the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, we will provide financial support to the industry for this kind of initiatives and to implement the ban. We will incentivise selectivity. We will reduce the pressure on the most popular and fragile species by promoting diversity of supply. But we need to go for the ban with clear target dates.
Otherwise, consumers will decide for us and may boycott perfectly good products simply because they no longer accept the waste that goes with them.
Again: if we do not set on ourselves strict – but, as I repeat, realistic – deadlines, we will only open the way to short-term interests and to new excuses for inaction.
Please do not give in to such excuses.
Let me now come to transferable concessions. Now, I have been labelled "liberal" for suggesting we introduce transferable fishing concessions. But you know I am not for liberalisation at all, since in our proposal there is for the first time the explicit recognition of the public ownership of fish stock.
I know that many of you fear that TFCs may lead to concentration, and that no safeguards will prevent that. I understand your concerns and I certainly don’t want to see that in Europe. But by exempting small-scale fleets, which account for 80% of the EU fleet, we can avoid that. And Member States can introduce their own additional safeguards as well.
I would like to ask for your help to bring this sense of urgency back to your national administrations and to your constituencies. Have them understand the rationale of the proposals and the logic behind each of the target dates we have set.
On regionalisation, ladies and gentlemen, I am completely open to any suggestions for improvement, and I am ready to aim even further. So here I am appealing to all institutions - the European Parliament, national parliaments, the Council - to counsel us how we adapt our proposal to set higher goals without going against the spirit and the letter of the Lisbon Treaty. We have already received a British contribution, which we are reflecting on. I urge you to come from all the countries forward.
To conclude, ladies and gentlemen,
If past experience is anything to go by, the absence of strict deadlines has systematically been used to delay action in an irresponsible way. The deadlines are there to help us – to help the operators see what they still need to do to comply and to help us know where we stand on sustainability.
Nobody can deny that the road to sustainability will be a rocky one: but the solution does not lie in waiting even longer, because that will only make things worse. We rather have to help operators through the transition. This is where the new Fund comes in. I have designed this new fund to help fishermen adapt to the new requirements; it will foster local initiatives and enable communities to diversify their production activities.
If there is one thing I really want you to remember today, it is that we have to think first of what the sea is able to produce and then fish according to that – and not the other way round. The sooner we start doing this the better – because this is the highway to social and economic wellbeing of our fishing industry and our coastal communities. Think sustainable and the economic benefits will come. 135 million Euros, ladies and gentlemen, is the extra money in the pockets of fishermen, from quota increases that we were able to do from 2011 to 2012,