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[Check Against Delivery]
European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Fishing Overcapacity: time to move forward at global level
Conference on Fishing Capacity
Thessaloniki, 13 March 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to welcome you to Thessaloniki.
I am very pleased that a large number of Ministers as well as knowledgeable experts from all around the world are here today.
This is an important conference.
We will be hearing from fellow policy makers what individual countries are doing to address the issue of excessive fishing power. We will be looking at a snapshot of all the multilateral processes in force taken by eminent specialists. And some of us will be committing to work together in the future.
The European Union is a major player in international fisheries. We have fleets and vessels in all oceans. At the same time, we are a very big market, since we import 70% of what we consume. And also we are a very important consumer, since we consume a fourth of the world's seafood resources.
This amounts to a huge responsibility. And from this huge responsibility descends, at least in part, the radical reform we have recently carried out in European Union fisheries.
The change has been drastic.
And the results are already there.
Last year in the North Sea and Atlantic we had 25 stocks fished sustainably. This was already 5 times more than 5 years ago, but this year, there's 27. And we expect 31 by next year.
Our zero tolerance against illegal fishing is also bearing fruit. Three countries risk losing trade with us and many others are adapting to our requirements. Our attitude towards our imports is much more thorough, cautious, meticulous.
We have also managed to bring down our fleets quite substantially. Today we focus public support on diversification, innovation and sustainable techniques. We are finding alternatives to the unacceptable practice of discarding – that is the practice of throwing perfectly health fish back in the sea. And when our fleets fish in the waters of others, they only fish the surplus according to the Law of the Sea, and within scientifically safe margins.
So, in the European Union we have reformed our system in an efficient way. But we can't just look at our own backyard. In fact, our new legislation specifically says that we are to project the same principles abroad; that we must help create a level playing field; that we must promote responsible action at all levels.
This is a key point. No matter how much progress we make domestically, if overexploitation goes on elsewhere, then we all lose.
And let us not forget that there are still some developing states that depend on the sea; small island states that need to be able to access food resources freely and earn a decent living from their natural resources.
From that perspective, addressing effectively fishing overcapacity at the global level is essential.
Reducing capacity is the way to go – and in any case this will be an integral part of our overall plan. What is also advisable is a carefully designed mix of structural and conservation tools, like rights-based systems, tighter controls and incentives for diversification. We will be discussing all the approaches today and tomorrow.
But I would like to stress at this point that the missing element is : action.
There is no shortage of rules and guidance: we have the Law of the Sea, the Fish Stock agreements and other UN provisions, we have FAO action plans, the so-called "Kobe recommendations". We have the endorsement of the Rio+20 Conference.
A lot is being said but - all too often – little is being done.
What do we need to do for these plans to be systematically enforced, for words to be translated into action? That is the key requirement to be met.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We need to put the problem of excessive fishing power back on the map, back on the international agenda. We need a renewed political will. And we should agree on the way forward.
We should discuss, benchmark, create alliances. These are all necessary steps towards any political solution. They are the prelude to proper, reasoned action. And it is high time we start.
This is the essence of our Conference: to move forward together.
We are committed to addressing the problem global fishing overcapacity..
There is work to be done. And we will do our best to succeed.
At the end of this process, we will share the benefits that will surely come back to us in the form of more stable fish stocks, healthier oceans and a better future.