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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Making Regional Fisheries Management Organisations fit for the future
Conference: RFMOs (Regional Fisheries Management Organisations) – Fit for the Future
Brussels, 01 June 2012
Dear Dr Lubchenco, dear Members of the European Parliament, dear Chairpersons, dear Executive Secretaries, dear Speakers and Guests,
Welcome and thank you for accepting my invitation to this conference, which brings together the Chairs and Executive Secretaries of all the Regional Fisheries Management Organisations. I am also grateful to US Under Secretary of Commerce Dr Jane Lubchenco for being here today.
Allow me to start by touching upon what the European Union is doing for sustainability in its own waters.
Many fish stocks in European waters are overexploited. Our vessels catch more fish than can be reproduced. This leads to less catch and consequently less income for the fishing industry. Quite a big amount of by-catches is thrown back into the sea - and that is a disgrace.
To tackle this heavy legacy of overfishing, discard practices and illegal fishing, I have tabled a radical reform of our European Union Common Fisheries Policy.
If approved, starting next year this Reform will bring fish stocks back to sustainable levels and provide EU citizens with stable, secure and healthy food supply. It will also bring new prosperity to the industry, end the dependence on subsidies and create new opportunities for jobs and growth in coastal areas.
To achieve all this, the Reform makes the industry and all operators in supply chain more accountable for their actions. It makes the protection of the marine environment more effective by means of multi-annual, ecosystem-based management plans. It bans discards and makes fisheries more profitable through a system of transferable fishing concessions. It improves our data collection methods and our scientific knowledge of the stocks.
This Reform is under negotiation in the EU. But, in the meantime, the fight against illegal fishing cannot wait. For two years now we have a system allowing to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal fishing.
The most important of these is the catch certification scheme. For all marine fishery products, a certificate is now required, to demonstrate that fish has been caught in line with the rules – it is a sort of ‘marine passport’.
All fishery products traded with the EU are therefore traceable now. I can tell you that this instrument has already proven to deter criminal fishing activities.
On top of that, we are also in the process of establishing our first list of IUU vessels in addition to the RFMO IUU vessel list.
Still, taking care of European waters alone is not good enough. As a global player, the EU is also responsible for external waters and must prove that we assume our responsibility for sustainable ocean governance in RFMOs and other international fora.
Regional Fisheries Management organisations are key to the sustainable management of fisheries resources and eco-systems.
Or to put it otherwise, the better RFMOs perform, the more healthy fish we will have for ourselves and for future generations around the world.
Our Conference today is mainly about what we can do better. We have done really a lot. But more remains to be done.
Regarding the future of the RFMOs, there are a few points that I would like to make.
The first of these is better science.
Science is our stepping stone. We have an international obligation to make sure that we use the best available scientific advice for policy-making, taking into account the eco-system and precautionary approach.
To do so, we need to look at all angles of scientific advice. We need more and better data. We must make sure that data are submitted by all Contracting Parties – hence the approach, promoted by us for instance in ICCAT, on "no data no fish". We need more scientists. Scientific advice needs to be easy to understand and provide all the elements a fisheries manager needs so to take sound decisions. We should not be afraid of peer reviews to ascertain the quality of scientific advice and we should not hesitate to look into efficiency gains in the entire scientific process via regular performance reviews. Clearly, securing the best available scientific advice needs a lot of effort by all parties, including financial investments in science and capacity building.
The second issue is sustainability. We need efficient management measures, including capacity management. We must apply a precautionary and ecosystem approach to all fisheries, find a balance between fishing capacity and available resources, and study all interactions between species and also with non-targeted species, like sharks, seabirds, turtles and so on. We must put in place effective instruments and tools that would allow us to eradicate IUU-fishing. Needless to say, Port State Measures, as Catch Documentation Schemes are essential tools in the fight against IUU. All these elements should form an integral part of each RFMO's agenda.
The third issue is compliance. Without compliance, even with the best science and the best measures in the world, we won't be able to save the fish. Compliance Committees have therefore a crucial role to play in this respect. I also strongly believe that regular and comprehensive compliance reviews of each individual Party in the RFMOs is the way to go.
I am fully aware of the fact that is quite a challenge for developing countries to cope with all the rules and procedures set up by RFMOs. So it is vital that we help each other build their own capacity to collect the data needed, provide input to the scientific process, enforce the rules in place and monitor and control their fishing activities. This is definitely another important building block towards the overall aim of better performance.
Last but not least, Regional Organisations should be accountable for their decisions and actions. They should undergo regular performance reviews by independent panels of experts and make sure that the recommendations made by these panels are put in place in an effective and timely manner.
Today we have a chance to voice our opinion about what RFMOs need to do in order to be "fit for the future".
I would like to underline that with your organisations lies an important responsibility for the protection of marine living resources.
The European Union will continue to fully support you in your very important work.
There will be no progress in fisheries management worldwide without this shared commitment to the key objectives of sustainability and responsibility.