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European Commission

[Check Against Delivery]

Maria Damanaki

European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Fisheries management in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea: time to go to the next level

GFCM (General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean) Annual Session Meeting

Rome, 20 May 2014


Executive Secretary,

Dear Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am very happy to be here today.

First of all, I wish to thank the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations also on behalf of the EU, for hosting this year's General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean Session.

Originally I had planned to be in Bremen today, for the European Maritime Day, which is a big event for us. But I decided it was important that I come here and share with you my views on the state of the stocks in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea.

I am rather worried to be honest. After more than four years in office, the situation is still a cause of great concern to me. The science is clear: too many species are heavily overfished. Stocks are critically low and in some cases even endangered.

And to make matters worse, we are facing ever more unregulated activities in both sea basins. I would be like to inform you that last week, the European Commission adopted a new initiative to ban in all EU waters and by all the EU operators the use of gears that adversely affect the ecosystem. If this proposal is adopted by our EU Ministers, in the Council, it will have a major positive impact in the Mediterranean. We will also need to discuss with you, our partners, how to bring this to the next level, the international level.

So, it is clear: It is time we went on high alert. It is time to take action.

Science is key in this context. We certainly need to improve our knowledge of the stocks, and I know that GFCM has made great efforts in this direction.

But it is still early days and science is only one part of the equation. The other part is interaction and cooperation between the players. The Mediterranean and the Black Sea very often face similar problems regarding stocks that are in a critical condition. We need a common approach and we need to adopt the same standards for management of resources in these two areas. And we need to translate these standards into real management measures.

Only the consistent and fair implementation of those measures will then guarantee that our resources are properly managed and that our conservation objectives are met.

Now, I admit that things were far from ideal when I took office four years ago. I admit that the Mediterranean and the GFCM were not the highest priority back then.

But today things are different. Today we have a framework that looks for long-term conservation measures, adapts to the different sub-regions, is based on scientific advice and works in synergy with Regional Organisations. We also have an efficient framework against illegal fishing.

This gives GFCM the right context to gain prominence and take the role it deserves: a modern, competent, effective body that has the power to make history by reversing a negative trend.

I can predict that your role is only bound to grow in the future:

- First of all, because the Mediterranean and the Black sea are coming to the fore of the EU's conservation policies, and more efforts of ours will come into your direction.

- Secondly, because Black Sea issues are bound to gain importance within the GFCM. So we must reach out to those who have not joined yet and involve them in all its fields of action. In these troubled times, this should be for them a place to discuss issues in peace and in a constructive manner. So we must keep encouraging them to become full members.

- Thirdly, and most importantly, to translate the good principles of its new legislation onto the ground, the EU needs you.

We want a truly adaptive policy, one that considers sub-regional issues and does not neglect those coastal communities that depend on local small-scale fisheries both economically and culturally.

The GFCM is essential to that. The small-scale fisheries symposium held in Malta at the end of last year showed that small-scale fishermen are very motivated to preserve their fisheries resources - because their living depends on it. There have been also some promising initiatives in the EU to bring together all stakeholders. I have been recently informed of interesting developments in Sardegna and in Spain, more precisely Cataluña. Fishermen, scientists, NGOs have been working together with the local and national authorities to develop new models of management. Maybe GFCM could look into these experiences and in other similar ones that are happening in other GFCM members. The GFCM can be the trait-d'union in this respect and play a precious role of assistance.

The EU is also prepared to help you, for example, if countries want to improve their control capabilities.

So we all need to find better ways to work together and act together. I am not denying that the next few years may be challenging, and I know you have already done a lot, but now it is time to go to the next level.

We need long-term plans for the management of shared stocks, because bringing our marine living resources back to sustainable levels is now essential. And urgent.

Let me remind you that there is not just an environmental imperative, but also an economic one: we must restore the sector's confidence and its economic prospects for the future.

It is in this spirit that we are tabling three proposals this year: two aimed at setting a level playing field and achieving common standards; the other for the Black Sea, which deserves particular attention due to the geopolitical situation.

I ask you to consider them with an open mind and to please remember that adopting them is not good enough. We also have to make sure they are implemented. My team is ready to work with you on this in the coming days.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Of course the reform of the GFCM is a very clear signal in the right direction.

We have come to the crucial moment and I want to congratulate all of you, and especially the President and the Executive Secretary of GFCM, for everything you have done over the last three years to prepare for this moment. I also thank FAO for its invaluable support during this process.

I am delighted to hear that the new text of the new GFCM can now be endorsed by all Members. When that happens, let us start the ratification process straight away and start renewing as from now the way GFCM operates.

It is good to know that the text we have been working on for the new GFCM is now final and it contains a proper system to monitor compliance and enforce the rules.

I know this means strong commitment on behalf of all Members, but common standards and a common approach to compliance is paramount if we are to achieve any conservation goal – and also maintain credibility. We have to make sure that we all play by the same rules and that those rules are properly enforced.

We must also be united in applying the Agreement's principles and rules. Of course there may be cases where a Contracting Party is unable to apply a specific provision, but we should not be too liberal with the opt-out clauses. The text of the Agreement will make sure that those cases remain exceptional and last as little as possible.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

There is no doubt in my mind that GFCM can play a key role in the coming years and I am certain that this reform will lead to a more efficient, more credible and more modern organisation; an organisation that is well-equipped and ready to restore the health of marine resources and to take up a leading role in international fisheries management.

I say let us use this momentum. Let us ride on the wave of a stronger, modern, competent and effective General Commission to look at the wider picture and agree on long-term conservation measures.

Our success will depend on the commitment of all; so the EU remains committed to working with you to meet the challenges ahead and to make this body the main instrument for environmental protection and fisheries management in the Mediterranean and Black Sea.

I wish you every success.

Thank you.

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