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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
London, 24 January 2012
Dear Mr Blanc, Ladies and Gentlemen,
First of all, let me thank you for what you are doing. This Fish Summit and the other initiatives that you organise are paramount to engage everybody in the role, they have to play in using and promoting sustainable fish. And therefore to support our initiative for reforming the European Common Fisheries Policy, that I presented last summer.
We share the same goal – promoting sustainability – and the same concerns:
We hear that fish resources are depleted. That fish contains dangerous pollutants. That it is sometimes sold under false labels.
And we hear that big amounts of fish are thrown overboard because they were caught by mistake.
The issue of discards that has made more than 770 thousands citizens across Europe sign a petition to end discards. Is 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 thousands and 350 thousands of 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.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We have to stop throwing away fish that is already killed, quota or no quota. I spoke to some of you and I know your commitment in this particular field.
Let me tell you that your work is particularly important: you contribute to raise consumers' awareness and you help fishermen, giving value to fish that they would discard.
Often we take the easy road and we blame the fishing industry for discards. But I don't think it is fair, because let's face it, fishermen follow rules that we have set, on minimum landing sizes and catch composition.
So let us be honest and acknowledge, that discarding is not something the fishing industry has invented out of mere pleasure. 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 am aware of several projects from the fishing industry to reduce discards. Many of these projects have delivered concrete results, but I am afraid they are just a drop in the ocean, when it comes to tackling this problem at the root.
They indeed show 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.
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.
Moreover, those voluntary projects will not change consumer's perception that fishing is a wasteful practise. Retailers are now responding to sustainability concerns. I don't need to tell you that this perception is gaining ground in 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. 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.
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. Then we will have to land every fish caught in the nets. If it is undersized fish, then it goes into fishmeal production. If it is oversize fish, then the fishermen can sell it for human consumption. They will keep, of course, the profits from this sale.
I have not spoken about the many more facets of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which are also very important. They would lead us to reach a sustainable level of exploitation –what we call Maximum Sustainable Yield– of fish stocks by 2015. They would also lead us to implement the same fishing rules wherever we fish. In European waters but also outside Europe, on an international level. I have not told you about the need to boost aquaculture production in Europe, to avoid being dependant on imports from other countries. I did not mention the ways I intend to finance the transition towards sustainability and help fishermen to achieve economic profitability.
But the time is limited and I believe that discards is really the core issue. It is symbolic and can mobilize public opinion. We need you to express your views clearly because this is the only way to convince everybody that this policy has to be turned around to become a policy that makes sense.
It is important to not loose the momentum for change and convince people that they have to choose sustainable fish for the sake of their health, as well as for taking care of both the environment and the future of fisheries altogether. But how can people choose? How do they choose their fish? How do you choose your fish, ladies and gentlemen? Your choice is key and convincing.
You can show people, you can show us all, what to choose. That is why today's event is so key for getting it right. If European citizens are ever more aware of the need to value sustainability, this is also thanks to the way that European chefs, restaurants and retailers work. Your can drive the change: eating sustainably means fishing sustainably.
But you have already proven to be a key player in this. The sustainably Fish City initiative in London is a perfect examples on how you are driving change in the world towards better and more tasty menus. So help us to keep the momentum and move forward!