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European Commission

Janez Potočnik

European Commissioner for Environment

Ending the abuse of marine environment

Fisheries (PECH) Committee meeting (European Parliament)/Brussels,

9 October 2012

Honourable Members, Mr Adrover,

In July, at the EP plenary session, our discussions did not go very far as I had to catch a plane to Cyprus. Therefore I am grateful for today's invitation and I am looking forward to our one hour debate.

We all appreciate the beauty of oceans and seas, their diversity and usefulness. But we also know about the threats they face today. Some will blame climate change. Indeed it is one of the key drivers to the degradation of the marine environment. But let's face it: there is much more than climate change. Our way of living and consuming matters a lot.

Why? Because today we are locked into resource inefficient infrastructures (e.g. too many fishing vessels); we are locked into resource inefficient economic and financial systems (e.g. too many incentives to catch those last fish); and we are locked into resource inefficient business models (e.g. too few incentives for sustainable fisheries). In short ... we are locked into an inefficient, unsustainable growth model.

For centuries, we have taken for granted the wealth of our seas. We have used, even abused, their resources. Because oceans and seas are immense, we have considered their resources as infinite. It was a mistake and today marine ecosystems are in a very bad status.

However if it is true that mankind is one of the causes, it is also true that mankind can bring solutions. I would even say it must bring solutions. It is our responsibility and we have no other choice. We have to move from resource depletion to resource efficiency. This is precisely why the European Commission has been pushing so much for a growth model that places the efficient use of natural resources at the centre of its economic transformation.

What does that mean in practice? Which tools do we have at our disposal?

First, we need to integrate resource efficiency and environmental concerns into all of our policies.

Last year, the Commission adopted a proposal for a reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and a proposal for the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. They go exactly in this direction. They are about putting in place the conditions for a better future for fish and fisheries alike. They are about promoting sustainable fisheries that respect the ecosystems. I have worked very well with my colleague Maria Damanaki to find the right balance for sustainable fisheries in the future. This is why I strongly invite you to support the key reform elements introduced in these proposals.

Second, we have to exploit the full potential of the EU environmental policy. Let me give you two examples:

- First example: we have an instrument for protecting the marine environment which can help ensure that "blue growth" happens in a sustainable way. It is called the Marine Strategy Framework Directive. For the first time, Member States are now developing environmental targets, based on an in-depth assessment of the state of their seas. These targets will address issues like biodiversity, marine litter, the health of commercial fish species and underwater noise. Member States are also asked to develop, with their neighbours at sea, measures to ensure that the seas recover and stay healthy. This ecosystem-based approach aims at addressing the threats to our seas at source and in an integrated way.

- Second example: the EU 2020 Biodiversity Strategy. It is also very closely related to fisheries policy. Indeed one of our six headline targets (target n°4) explicitly addresses the integration of biodiversity concerns into fisheries.

But EU action will only bring changes and be credible if there is a strong coherence between what we do internally and what we do externally.

In this regards, Rio+20 was a milestone. I'm not saying it was the success we had worked for. The conference did not lead to the results we were all hoping for. But, it was a milestone in the sense that the Summit conclusions contain a strong commitment to protect and restore the health, productivity and resilience of oceans and marine ecosystems, and to maintain their biodiversity by applying both an ecosystem approach and the precautionary approach. On fisheries, the overall orientations agreed were clear: to restore stocks to levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield on an urgent basis; to develop and implement science-based management plans urgently; to manage by catch, discards and other adverse ecosystem impacts from fisheries, and to protect vulnerable marine ecosystems. And I am pleased to say that the EU Marine Directive was a driver of this global orientation.

The Rio Summit also reaffirmed the commitment to eliminate subsidies that contribute to illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and overcapacity. All this is fully in line with the CFP reform proposal.

The truth is that the success or failure of Rio was not decided in June. It will be decided in the years to come. We can still make a real difference. And I trust I can count on your support.

The next important milestone is the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity that started yesterday in Hyderabad. Issues of marine and coastal biodiversity figure quite prominently on this year’s agenda. I am pleased that Members of this Committee are part of the EP delegation attending this event. The participation of the EP contributed significantly to the success of the 10th COP meeting in Nagoya in 2010, and I look forward to continuing the fruitful cooperation during the COP11.


Honourable Members,

Finally, let me now turn to CITES. I am fully aware this is a very sensitive issue for this Committee, as I know it is for Maria Damanaki.

There is no doubt that a large number of high seas fish stocks are in a bad state. There is no doubt either that international cooperation is imperative to improve the sustainability of high seas fishing activities. I trust this committee will not question that.

This is why the EU has a very ambitious agenda when it comes to governance of the high seas and the preservation of marine biodiversity. We need to continue to press for progress in Regional Fisheries Management Organisations, notably to make sure that their decisions rely on sound scientific advice. The EU is a leader in global fora, such as the FAO, the United Nations, advocating the adoption of new measures to protect high seas biodiversity.

The EU position in CITES should be equally ambitious. CITES has a full role to play in the protection of high seas marine species, which are threatened by international trade. This Convention is the only global instrument regulating trade in endangered species, and has proven its effectiveness over the last 40 years.

In this context, it is crucial that we find a solution to the issue called "introduction from the sea". In essence, this comes down to agreeing which State should issue CITES documentation for species which are harvested on the high seas.

After 20 years of international discussions, a solution is finally within reach. It proposes that:

1- The jurisdiction of the flag State is respected: nothing can be done without its formal agreement.

2- The flag state would be responsible for issuing the CITES documentation. What is at stake is only (and I am repeating only) the question of the issuance of CITES documentation. All duties and obligations from the flag State over its vessels under UNCLOS are not concerned by the Resolution and remain of course in force.

3- There would be strictly conditioned exemptions:

  • There should be a framework on chartering in place in the relevant RFMO. If there is no such framework or in areas not covered by a RFMO, the exemption cannot be used. We are not in a situation where the chartering and flag States can agree on anything bilaterally "à la carte" without respecting any standards.

  • A strict monitoring of the use of those exemptions is also foreseen.

This solution is only opposed by China, Japan and Argentina. So far the EU has not taken a position either for or against the text.

But now we need to agree a position. We will do this in the coming weeks through a proposal for a Council Decision, on which the European Parliament will of course be kept informed.

I will of course carefully listen to your views and concerns, but, before I finish, let me reassure you on a number of points that were raised in Strasbourg.

No one in the Commission or in the Member States has any intention whatsoever of changing EU action against IUU fishing. The IUU Regulation will continue to apply irrespective of any solution adopted within CITES.

Nor do we intend to alter our position in Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs) either. As I said, the solution on the table ensures consistency with the regime in place to regulate chartering in RFMOs. The solution that will be found in CITES will be specific to CITES. It will in no case mean that the EU would be obliged to accept solutions in RFMOs on chartering practices that it does not support.


Honourable Members,

The decisions we take now will influence for decades how the environment, and especially oceans, can deliver food and energy in a way that is more sustainable and, at the same time, be a source of innovation and growth, rather than a source of natural capital unfortunately it is today.

We can no longer ignore the severity of debt in our natural capital and continue to separate growth from environmental protection. They need to walk hand-in-hand.

Thank you for your attention.

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