EC secures 10-year pledge to save Mediterranean fish stocks

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EC secures 10-year pledge to save Mediterranean fish stocksFollowing months of negotiations, the European Commission has secured a 10-year pledge to save the Mediterranean fish stocks and protect the region’s ecological and economic wealth.

The Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, a practical example of EU’s successful neighbourhood policy, sets out a detailed work programme for the next 10 years, based on ambitious but realistic targets.

Over 300 000 persons are directly employed on fishing vessels in the Mediterranean, whilst many more indirect jobs depend on the sector.

The Declaration was signed on Thursday by Mediterranean ministerial representatives from both northern and southern coastlines, a signature that gives political ownership to an issue that was up to now managed at technical level. It is the result of a European Commission-led process that started in Catania, Sicily in February 2016.

Commissioner Karmenu Vella, responsible for the Environment, Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, said on Thursday, “today we are making history. In signing the Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, we are affirming our political will to deliver tangible action: on fisheries and other activities that have an impact on fisheries resources, on the blue economy, on social inclusion, and on solidarity between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean. I hope that this declaration will come to be seen as a turning point – for a bright future for fishermen, coastal communities and fishing resources alike.”

Commitments made by the signatories include:

– By 2020, ensure that all key Mediterranean stocks are subject to adequate data collection and scientifically assessed on a regular basis. In particular small-scale fishermen are to acquire an increased role in collecting the necessary data to reinforce scientific knowledge;

– Establish multi-annual management plans for all key fisheries. On its part, the Commission has already initiated this process with its proposal for a multi-annual fisheries plan for small pelagic stocks in the Adriatic;

– Eliminate illegal fishing by 2020 by ensuring that all States have the legal framework and the necessary human and technical capabilities to meet their control and inspection responsibilities. The General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) will lead the development of national control and sanctioning systems;

– Support sustainable small-scale fisheries and aquaculture by streamlining funding schemes for local projects such as fleet upgrade with low-impact techniques and fishing gear, social inclusion and the contribution of fishermen to environmental protection.

The effective implementation of the declaration will be made possible by involving in the process fishers – men and women -, coastal communities, civil society, industrial, small-scale, artisanal and recreational fisheries, as well as the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and GFCM.

The Commission said that the declaration is another contribution to the EU’s international commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (Goal 14: ‘Conserve and sustainably use the ocean, seas and marine resources for sustainable development’).

The Mediterranean Sea is a unique sea basin, characterised by its long coastline and a fishing sector providing jobs for over 300 000 people. 80% of its fleet belongs to small-scale fishermen (with vessels under 10m long), who fish a quarter of the total catches.

The Commission said that these jobs are at risk as fish stocks in the Mediterranean are shrinking: about 90% of assessed stocks are over-exploited. Food security, livelihoods, and regional stability and security are all under threat.

Thursday’s declaration is the outcome of the so-called Catania process, launched by Commissioner Vella in February last year and entailing fruitful cooperation with stakeholders, the GFCM Secretariat, EU Member States and third countries. Important milestones include a first ministerial conference of Mediterranean fisheries ministers in April 2016, the GFCM annual session in June 2016, and the GFCM inter-sessional meeting in September 2016.

The following parties were represented at the Malta MedFish4Ever Ministerial Conference: European Commission, 8 Member States (Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece, Cyprus), 7 third countries (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania, Montenegro), FAO, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, the European Parliament, the EU Mediterranean Advisory Council.

Photograph by Alain Salvary

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