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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
The Oceans, our Common Challenge
Lecture on European Common Fisheries Policy at the Tokyo University /Tokyo
9 July 2012
Dear Professors, Dear Students, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is an honor and a privilege to be here today in Tokyo to address the academic community of this prestigious University on an issue of key importance: oceans and fisheries.
The recent Rio+20 Summit has brought testimony to the fact that the international community is fully aware of the challenges that we are faced with in the domain of oceans and fisheries.
Important decisions were taken, and a solid basis for our future action has been established. But it goes without saying that a lot remains to be done.
In the European Union, we are committed to meeting the challenges of oceans and fisheries in the best possible way.
As European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, my principal objectives are to develop the potential of the European maritime economy and to secure a safe and stable supply of seafood - for Europeans today and for future generations.
I say 'Europeans', but our efforts are, in fact, global. In this world we are all interlinked and any conservation policy makes little sense in isolation.
For instance, when the tsunami hit Japan and the Fukushima plant was damaged, there was a risk that European consumers would stop buying fish out of fear of radioactive contamination. The economic damage could have been serious.
Japan and the EU worked closely together and set up a program very quickly to monitor the fish on both ends - and this reassured consumers that the fish was safe.
My point is that, as members of the global community, we are facing a host of challenges, and we can only tackle them together. More precisely, as we are all responsible for the state of the marine environment, we all need to work together to safeguard it.
This applies to all Oceans, to all major Seas, and even to the Arctic, where the European Commission and the High Representative have has just published their new Arctic Policy.
If I am here in Tokyo today, it is because I am convinced that Japan and the European Union can do a lot together. The program on radioactivity I just mentioned is just one example, and the memorandum of understanding on fighting illegal fishing that I am about to sign with Minister Gunij is another.
Allow me first to briefly explain the situation in the EU and what are we doing to promote sustainable fisheries and ocean governance.
First and foremost, we have launched a radical reform of our fisheries policy.
In recent years, Europe has been fishing far too much. One could say we have been squandering the 'fish capital' at our disposal. We have too many vessels and too powerful technology. Too many fish are taken out of the water before they can reproduce; the remaining fish can only produce fewer offspring and so, year after year, the fish population starts going down.
Fishermen realize they are catching less fish, so they resort to their potent technological means and intensify their effort to maintain their profits.
And this is how the vicious circle of overfishing starts. This is how we came to having more than two-thirds of the fish stocks overexploited in European seas.
Overfishing brings about huge costs, both to the environment and to our economies. If the former are difficult to evaluate, as the impact on the ecosystems can be quite extensive, the economic damage can be assessed more easily.
A recent report by the New Economics Foundation estimated that rebuilding forty-three out of 150 European stocks would generate 3 billion dollars a year, and could support the creation of 83 thousand jobs in the EU.
To counter overfishing, governments have naturally been trying to limit the quantities that people are allowed to land. But in doing so, they have also created a distortion. The fish that have been caught up in the nets but cannot be landed are thrown back into the sea – a practice known as discarding.
Discarding is a serious problem affecting fisheries all over the world. According to findings by the FAO, around seven million tons of marine life are killed and dumped overboard every year because unwanted.
This is a huge waste. It is a practice that not only goes against any sound environmental principle, but is downright unethical.
Luckily enough, the pressure on EU policy makers, fishermen and scientists, to address this warning situation is mounting today. European consumers are highly sensitive on this issue.
Negotiations are now underway within the EU, on my proposal for the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.
If approved, 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.
The reform makes the protection of the marine environment more effective by means of multi-annual, ecosystem-based management plans and by setting a clear and mandatory deadline for aligning fishing levels to Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) levels. 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.
Our plan also improves the participation of the industry and of all operators in the supply chain. In this, I would like to say that we are following Japan's model.
We believe that producers' organizations and fishermen's organizations should play a greater role in fisheries management. Fishermen will bring their know-how into daily management and they will develop ownership, which means they will accept to be more accountable for their actions, and respect the rules in a much clearer way.
Allow me now to move to the question of illegal fishing. This is a serious problem at international level.
Illegal fishing contributes to plummeting fish stocks; it perpetuates overfishing; it upsets ecosystems, endangers species, reduces biodiversity; and it undermines all our conservation efforts.
A recent report by the European Parliament says illegal fishing accounts for an astonishing 19 percent of world-wide catches.
Environmental NGOs talk about 13 to 31 percent of global catches, and a value of 10 to 23 billion dollars each year! It might sound paradoxical, but illegal fishing is still the second would largest producer.
As illegal fishing is a clandestine activity, its true extent is actually hard to ascertain.
What is clear is that, if we are to ensure sustainable fishing levels, we need to eradicate illegal fishing by means of strict control and enforcement measures.
For this reason, at EU level, we have declared zero tolerance on illegal fishing. Since 2010 we have a new set of rules on traceability, marketing, control and enforcement. This applies to all EU nationals, wherever they fish, and to all products traded into the EU.
An interesting element of this new regulation is the 'catch certificate'. Every fishery product entering the EU must come with a certificate guaranteeing that they were caught in line with regional and international rules on conservation – a sort of 'marine passport', as it were, showing where the fish come from.
This way, all the fish imported into the EU are traceable “from the net to the plate”. Illegally-caught products can no longer reach the EU market or any market supplied by the EU.
The countries which do not adopt the certification system or do not persecute their pirate vessels are unable to do business with the EU: imports from them will be banned. Vessels, on the other hand, end up on a EU black list if found to break the law.
Our new system was an important and necessary step, and it is already bringing about concrete results: marketing illegally-caught fish into the EU is becoming impossible. Coupled with strong sanctions, we are confident that this will provide a strong deterrent.
However, much remains to be done. And we know that we can certainly fight this battle, but we cannot win it alone.
The only way to tackle this effectively is for the main market powers to join forces. Much like with biodiversity loss, the solution to illegal fishing lies in concerted international action. We need Japan's support in this global effort.
Since the catch certification scheme is proving quite effective for us, as a next concrete step we intend to develop this idea with our international partners through the regional management fisheries organizations, with the ultimate goal to set up a worldwide traceability system.
Cooperation is the keyword here. Everything we do will only have a limited impact if our efforts remain isolated. We need our global partners to work with us; we need to share responsibility; we need a common commitment towards shared goals.
This week we will be signing a joint statement with Japan in which we commit to cooperate even more strongly against illegal fishing in the international domain. Two strategic partners, Japan and the European Union, will be sending to the international community, to fishermen and stakeholders, a strong message that they will act in unison.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Our cooperation with Japan is also strong within the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations to which we both belong. It is only natural that, with common values and shared goals, we should often find ourselves in agreement.
Speaking of Regional Management Organizations, I would like to make a few points.
The first is the issue of science. Science is our stepping stone. It is what we base our fisheries management decisions on. It is what we need to know which action is responsible and which is not. And we have an international obligation to make sure that our policies take into account the eco-system and precautionary approach.
To fulfil that obligation, all sides of scientific advice are important. We need more data – and we need better data. We need data to be submitted by all contracting parties – hence the "no-data-no-fish" approach that we are promoting in ICCAT, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas.
Let us also not forget the role of inspectors. Without compliance, even the best science and the best measures in the world won't save the fish. So Compliance Committees play a crucial role.
I want to emphasise that when Japan, the EU and other nations worked jointly on a recovery plan for the Mediterranean and Atlantic Bluefin tuna, we tried to apply all these elements. Science, cooperation, control, enforcement and fight against IUU activities are the cornerstones of our action to save the Bluefin tuna. I consider this a very good example of how we need to work together on other issues and on other stocks in the future.
So far I have talked mainly about fisheries. But my responsibilities include the whole maritime domain, and its ever important role in the economy.
I believe that the maritime economy can be a powerful engine for the economic recovery of Europe and beyond. There are several maritime sectors that show this kind of potential: offshore wind energy, blue biotechnology, short-sea shipping or cruise tourism are making the headlines today because they are still growing despite the difficult economic times we live in.
For the ocean technology experts who are here today I will cite just one example: ocean energy.
The sea will certainly be the place from which we harvest a new energy, one that is clean and renewable. The systems needed, be they wind turbines, other energy converters or smart grids, are by their very nature high-tech. This means high-quality jobs in construction, maintenance and logistical support. But for that, we need new experts and a good deal of research.
There can also be many more solutions, and the challenge today is to be as imaginative as possible and as exhaustive as possible in trying to find the ones that will change the economy of tomorrow and we need new, green solutions: this requires great efforts and new thinking, beyond the narrow view of sector-specific policies.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to conclude by saying something that you know very well: Oceans are complex systems requiring complex solutions. We need to manage all oceans and seas sustainably. Overall, this is a huge task.
This will require a collective, coordinated effort and the international community needs to remain fully committed to this overarching aim.
Japan and the European Union are in this together.
If we stay the course, together we will succeed.