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Member of the European Commission Responsible for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
Managing fleets and conserving resources under the future Common Fisheries Policy.
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EPP hearing on CFP reform
Brussels, 9 June 2010
Madam Chair, Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to be back at the European Parliament for the third time in three weeks to speak to you about the reform of the CFP. I would have liked to be here from the beginning, but as you will know today the Commission is meeting the Polish government and I have just left early a cluster meeting with members of the Polish government in order to address your hearing. I will focus on the two strategic issues around which today's hearing centres: fleet management and resource conservation.
Let me begin with fleet management. We have already had a very intensive debate on tradable rights when I met with the Fisheries Committee on 17 May and 1 June. So far whenever people talk about tradable rights, they mention them in the context of bringing down the massive overcapacity we have in the EU fleet. And yes they are right, when they say we need to tackle this problem that puts us in a vicious circle over and over again. But reducing fleet capacity is only one side of the coin of tradable rights. The other side of the coin is the human side of receiving a financial compensation for leaving the sector and it is this human side of the coin that we are neglecting in our discussions. We are not looking at what happens to the patron pecheur, to the fishermen who owns his vessel and who has been struggling in the past few years to make a living from fishing. Let's do a quick reality check and see what MS have spent on social measures such as retraining, diversification and early retirement under the last structural funds for fisheries, the FIFG, which ran from 2000 to 2006. The individual fishermen have received on average only 2 000 € per year. Now I am asking you, what on earth can a fisherman do with 2 000 €, it is not enough for him to build an alternative source of income. In light of this, tradable rights could maybe offer a solution to those that want to leave the sector. They would have the possibility to sell their rights to others in the same Member State.
And now coming back to the fleet capacity side of the coin, let me repeat that during the past 20 years or so publicly financed scrapping has not decreased the fleets and has proven costly. In these economically difficult times, we cannot afford to throw money at inefficient solutions. I have said it before, and I will say it again: it is not the intention of the Commission to propose decommissioning of vessels with taxpayers' money in the future. And with no tradable rights in place you run a serious risk of seeing many fishermen devoid of any economic assets, if they decide to leave this activity behind. This would be socially irresponsible, so I have to ask you very directly if you want to sanction such an outcome. For my part I can say that just leaving fishermen to their fate is not something I can condone.
This is why I believe that all Member States should consider tradable rights, at least for their large-scale fleets. The examples I have quoted here recently show just what national tradable rights systems can do to reduce fishing capacity and to increase economic viability – at no cost to the taxpayer. Remember: In Spain, Denmark and Estonia capacity was reduced by between 30 to 50 % and the profitability increased. Apart from that a welcome side-effect would be that a smaller fleet also reduces our carbon footprint.
Let me stress five conditions that for me would be vital in any system of tradability:
Let me say a final word on tradable rights: if you have better ideas to offer a social safety net to vessels owners and to bring down fleet capacity please tell us. We are open to hear any idea that can help us.
Affirmative Action for small scale vessels
This brings me to the issue of small-scale vessels. I have looked at the figures and I have seen the proof that small vessels contribute a lot to the social fabric and economic well-being of coastal communities.
I am pleased that the European Parliament and the Commission are on the same page on this issue. We are both convinced that we need to promote small scale vessels with affirmative action. This can be a better access to the future fisheries fund, a better access to resources or fishing areas or also a higher share in tradable rights. I am convinced that we need affirmative action for small-scale vessels to help them, but I will need your help to convince Member States.
I would now like to move on to how we could best manage our fish stocks. Our fish stocks have two vital roles: they are important for the ecosystem of our oceans, but they are also the basis for the economic activity of our fishing industry, and here I am talking about the whole industry, starting from the catching sector to the auctions, processors, net manufacturers, traders and so on. In my book there can only be one goal and that is to achieve the highest productivity levels that fish stocks can give us over the long term. We need to take fishing to a new level and design an intelligent stock management fit for the 21st century. The two main management tools which we have in our toolkit are TACs and quotas and effort limits.
Pelagic fisheries are mostly clean fisheries with little or no bycatch and will probably be managed best with TACs and quotas. In mixed fisheries, where a few species are fished together TACs and quotas lead to discards and I know that you all agree with me that we simply cannot go on like that. We need to solve this problem once and for all. Therefore we need to explore new avenues for mixed fisheries for example managing them with effort limits. In doing so, we would hope to solve the discard problem and at the same time curb incentives to under-declare or falsely declare catches. This, in turn, could help render our control system more efficient.
If we decide to go down this road we need to take into account two key issues:
Finally we can also explore the possibility of leaving the choice between these two instruments, TACs and quotas on the one hand or effort on the other hand, to a regionalised decision-making process. But again here I am open to hear any other ideas you may have on how to manage fish stocks in the future.
Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am grateful to Mrs. Fraga for having organised this hearing – and, indeed, to the Fisheries Committee and the European Parliament in general for your keen interest. To me it clearly demonstrates that you too want to make a difference in fisheries management for the better. Your deep understanding of the needs of Europe's maritime and fisheries communities and your steadfast commitment to securing a viable future for our fishermen and their families will help us to shape a new policy.