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European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Reform in Europe is possible! – The Lesson of EU fisheries
Pan-European Conference for EU reform
London, 15 January 2014
Dear Ministers, Members of Parliament, ladies and gentlemen,
I am very happy to present to you the results of two years of hard work and negotiations in order to turn around the Common Fisheries Policy. What I would like to do today is to show to you how we have managed radical change:
At the beginning it seemed like "Mission Impossible" – I am sure that you are familiar with the famous Tom Cruise movies – but now it has become "Mission possible", because a radically reformed Common Fisheries Policy has come into force on 1 January 2014.
The role of European fisheries may appear rather modest in overall economic terms, but, believe me: for the millions of people who live on the coast, who work in the industry and for all consumers and future generations it is absolutely essential.
Some of you may think: "That is all very well, but why does Europe need to have a say about our fish?" Well, let me explain: Fish stocks are a shared resource. They do not know borders and they don't carry a passport that they present when they enter the French part of the English channel or the British part of the Irish Sea. Our common policy is needed, because fish don’t belong to any single nation; they are common good. This is why we need common rules applying to all. But when that system of common rules becomes too cumbersome and antiquated, it simply won't do.
When I took office, this is exactly what I found: a policy that was cumbersome and outdated. A policy that tried to prescribe everything top down, starting from the mesh size Mr. Smith needs to use when he fishes for Dover sole off the coast of Cornwall, over the thickness of the twine to how much cod, haddock and whiting a fishermen must have in his net when he targets whitefish.
How did it come this far? Fish stocks were dwindling every year. So in order to stop this downward spiral we added measure after measure in a patchwork like approach. It was like using aspirin to fight a serious disease. Obviously that was the wrong approach. That is why we looked at our patient, the Common Fisheries Policy, thoroughly. We detected many things that were not right: overfishing, discarding fish, top down decisions with no input from stakeholders and no binding rules for international fisheries.
With the reform we have tackled these problems – and we have already changed mind sets.
So overfishing, what did we do? The Commission based on scientific advice proposed to maximize catches, while still keeping them at a sustainable level in the long term – we call this Maximum Sustainable Yield or MSY. Fisheries Ministers have accepted this, because they too, want to see the benefits for their industries and the stakeholders. So last month, when the reform was not even in force yet, Fisheries Ministers of Europe have unanimously agreed fish quotas at a sustainable level. The decision means we have tripled the number of fish stocks fished at sustainable level in 2014 to 27 and for 2015 we can reach even 30 fish stocks fished sustainably. If you consider that we started with 9 stocks only a few years ago this is a massive achievement.
Then on discarding fish. This was an endemic problem of European fisheries. For decades fishermen have been throwing back into the sea fish that was too small… outside permitted quotas… or perfectly sized, edible and allowed, but with low market value. In fact Britain has discarded more than 1 billion pounds worth of cod in the past 50 years. Our reform turns this around too. An obligation to land all catches will gradually cover all European fisheries over a five-year period. And unwanted catches will be reduced through technical solutions decided at a Regional level. The industry has come along, because at the end of the day, everybody prefers a cleaner and less wasteful system. Not to mention the added bonus of a much more positive image vis-à-vis consumers.
Let me now come to the top down decisions. So what have we done to end these? This regionalization is a key element of the reform. It means the United Kingdom will devise tailor made management solutions for its fisheries together with its neighbors in the North Sea and the Atlantic, with the input from advisory councils and the stakeholders. This ladies and gentlemen is so important, because the stakeholders will be part of the decision making. The first of such tailor-made solutions must be regional discard plans to implement the landing obligation for pelagic stocks from January 2015 onwards. The way regionalization works is that the EU will prescribe only the overall standards and principles. It will be the lighthouse showing the way. Steering the ship will be national governments, regions and operators themselves, who will come up with customized solutions to meet those standards. And when they do, we will spread the good practice to those who are willing to pick it up, whether in the EU or in the rest of the world and this brings me to the international part of our policy.
I mention the rest of the world for a reason. Europe is a major player: we fish all over the seven seas…. and we are still the biggest importer of fish in the world! It is important that we apply all our political and economic weight to combat destructive fishing practices. Today we use modern technology to trace in detail the fish's route and we simply refuse to allow illegally-fished products enter our market. We prosecute vessels and individuals involved in illegal fishing and we stop trade with countries facilitating it or turning a blind eye.
We also do not shy away from economic retaliation against countries fishing irresponsibly on shared stocks.
Ladies and gentlemen, in the past we have been criticized to apply two different standards depending on whether we fish inside the EU or whether we fish in third country waters or on the high seas. With the reform we have also changed that. For the first time ever in the history of this policy we have legally binding standards making sure that when we fish outside the EU, we only fish within scientifically safe margins and only once the local populations have satisfied their seafood needs.
Our reformed policy is leading to winning battles in International organizations: Recently we managed to have the global quotas for blue-fin tuna agreed in line with scientific advice. This will not be for naught, because His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales's Charities have conducted a study that shows that recovering Bluefin tuna could lead to gains of up to 510 million Dollars per year
Ladies and gentlemen, it took years of preparation and negotiations; we had to get 28 different countries to agree this radical shift that I have just outlined to you. But now we're there. We achieved radical change: changes in the very fabric, the DNA of our policy. And I would like to pay tribute to the United Kingdom, a fervent critic of the former antiquated policy and a fervent supporter of the radical shift we achieved. I would also like to pay tribute to the fishing industry in the UK who is trying to do its part. They are coming up with new technical solutions to avoid unwanted catches and to eliminate discarding.
So you see my own experience with Europe is a success story of self-criticism and self-renewal. In fisheries we have proven that Europe can take the right decisions and reform.
Let me end by quoting Winston Churchill who once said: "I am easily satisfied with the very best." Well with this reform we achieved the very best and I too am satisfied, because we have devised a smart, modern and knowledge-based policy that is fit for this century. Now we need start implementing this policy.