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Staffan Nilsson's Comment (former EESC President 2010-2013)

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Reversing the tide: healthy fishing for a healthy planet

19 Jul 2011 By: Staffan Nilsson 0 Posts

Fisheries have been no exception in these times of EU reforms. Today the Council has discussed the European Commission's proposal on the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). I believe that Commissioner Damanaki's plan for the new policy is a good one, since we need serious changes today in order to ensure sustainable fishing communities in the long term. The proposal is not enough, however. While we need to plan for the long term, some measures need to be implemented urgently. Is the fisheries industry not one area in which austerity measures would help the sector to become more economically healthy and sustainable? If we want yields to rise again and future generations to have fish on their plates, we need to stop overfishing now and allow marine biological resources to recover. Sharing this “burden” amongst the fishermen and coastal communities of Europe is going to be a huge task which will require strong political leadership. And something more: fishermen and all related industries must be involved in all reforms.

The work we need to do applies to areas beyond fisheries, in which we need reforms: to waste less, to be mindful of the environment, more research and innovation, to adapt to and improve market conditions, and to take the necessary social measures.

I am happy to see that the Commission has taken on board more of the proposals from our opinion on the Green Paper preceding the reform (NAT/443, 28 April 2010) and that it recognizes the issues at stake: excess fleet capacity and as a consequence, overfishing. The Commission is right to seek to ensure that catches are within levels that can "produce the maximum sustainable yields" by 2015. The waste of food resources and the economic losses caused by throwing unwanted fish back into the sea, a practice known as “discarding”, will be phased out. Fishermen will be obliged to land all the commercial species that they catch. The Commission's plan also aims to promote the development of "aquaculture activities" in order to ensure food security and job opportunities. This all sounds very good, and what we need is for the Member States to agree plans to preserve Europe's fish stocks.

There are a few other aspects of this reform which I would like to mention and which we highlighted in our opinion last year. Socio-economic impact assessments should be carried out in parallel with the process of improving fisheries resources and maintaining them at sustainable levels. Equally important are the financial support measures to boost employment and encourage businesses to invest in innovation and development and provide professional training. Fishermen also need to be guaranteed a decent wage while stocks are recovering.
On the thorny issue of excess catches and discards, we proposed an innovative scheme: catches that exceed the quotas could be deducted from the following year's quotas, and the proceeds from selling these products should go to fishermen willing to give up a proportion of their quotas to ensure that the excess fish is accounted for.
A study group of 12 members, representing the different interests and concerns of civil society, from ship-owners and the processing industry to sea-workers, small-scale fishermen, consumer or environment NGOs, will study the Commission's proposals in depth and will draft an opinion which is expected to be adopted by the EESC around the end of the year. To this end, we will hold a public hearing on 6 October with the extractive sector, aquaculture producers, conservation groups and other industry representatives. It will be attended by Commissioner Damanaki, who will be able to take the stakeholders' input on board.

 

 

 

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