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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
ICCAT to keep momentum on recovery of fish stocks
Annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)/Cape Town
21 November 2013
Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,
It's a pleasure to be here. I know our time is precious and every ICCAT meeting is particularly busy: there's no time for complacency. But this year I think we can just take a moment and be proud of ourselves.
In the last couple of years we have engaged in an intense collective effort. We have improved scientific advice; we have improved compliance; we have improved our recovery plans. We've made and enforced tough decisions. We've become more efficient.
Today we reap the benefits of that effort. Bluefin tuna is officially recovering. This emblematic stock, utterly overfished and almost doomed in 2010, is likely to continue towards recovery.
Today, this organisation is becoming top of the class and a model of best practice among RFMOs. Hopefully it will inspire other regional bodies to undertake equally ambitious tasks.
So, to begin with, I want to say 'well done!' to you: fisheries managers from 47 countries, inspectors, scientists, the ICCAT Secretariat and fishermen: thank you for your efforts and sacrifices.
But while I wanted to share my renewed enthusiasm with you, I don’t want you to think that it is all downhill from here, or that we can rest on our laurels.
On the contrary: the stakes are still high and we still need the same rigor - on tuna as well as on other species. And now that we've set such high standards, proper control, administration and data collection will be more crucial than ever.
For Atlantic Bluefin tuna, we were able to grant a slightly higher TAC last year. Let us make sure the recovery is quantifiable before we rush into another peak.
We need to continue to ensure full compliance with the rules and to monitor the stock closely, because these are the key elements for its recovery. Luckily, electronic traceability should now make this easier.
We also need to continue our work to improve our scientific knowledge on the state of stocks.
And when we do have new scientific advice, as is the case this year for Atlantic albacore and Atlantic swordfish, we need to re-align our management decisions; whereas if we don’t have a full picture and there are still uncertainties, like for Eastern and Mediterranean bluefin tuna, then the precautionary approach should guide us.
This is precisely the direction the EU has taken domestically and internationally. Everywhere, with no exception, we are practicing what we preach.
At home we are cutting down exploitation to levels determined by scientists. Long-term plans allow for the recovery of weakened stocks. Discards are being phased out through a series of tools and technical solutions. Management is carefully tailored to each sea basin and region.
When we fish outside the EU, we only fish within scientifically safe margins and only once the local populations have satisfied their seafood needs.
There is no way around it. For Bluefin tuna like for other species, the key underlying cause for overfishing is clearly overcapacity.
And I will have the honour to host an international conference next March, in Thessaloniki, Greece, because I'm determined to renew momentum on effective capacity management at global level.
This of course goes hand-in-hand with our policy of "zero tolerance" on illegal fishing. We are using both our political weight and our market weight on this fight, and this too is now starting to pay off.
I'm glad we are on same page as ICCAT on certification and IUU listing; I hope that soon we'll be able to tell the world that, just like we have ensured the recovery of Bluefin tuna, we have defeated illegal fishing on the species in our purview.
At the end of the day, all our consumers should know that the fish they buy is sustainable; they should be reassured that there are people like us taking care, day by day, of the health of ocean life.
I wish you a constructive meeting.