Industry representatives from across Europe showed a united front in highlighting the important role played by all fleets, both small and large, in providing healthy food to the consumers and creating employment and wealth in fishing dependent areas as the newly elected chair of the European Parliament Committee on Fisheries (PECH) Chris Davies (Renew Europe, UK), the Director-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) João Aguiar Machado, and DG MARE Director Veronika Veits, attended at this week’s Europêche General Assembly meeting to discuss the many pressing issues facing the fishing sector today.
Europêche members recounted the major changes that have taken place over the past twenty years in terms of changes in attitude, with the industry now closely collaborating with scientists and civil society organisations to harvest resources sustainably, and they highlighted the need for proportionate and workable legislation.
‘I am very pleased that Mr Davies is actively engaging with the fishing sector and has shown a great willingness to continue an open door policy in the future,’ said Europêche managing director Daniel Voces, welcomed the positive attitude and constructive nature of the meeting.
‘We welcome his goal to secure a profitable and long-term future for our fishing industry. We have come a long way, with booming fish stocks in many parts of Europe and we need to continue this positive momentum.’
He commented that there was consensus on the achievements already realised in the North East Atlantic, with many thriving fish stocks, and all present agreed on the need to put more efforts into the Mediterranean Sea where the situation is expected to improve due to recently adopted policy and legislative tools.
Both Europêche and the chair of the PECH Committee shared the objective to continue reducing discards as much as possible in Europe.
Europêche stated that fishermen are doing their best to be more selective and to comply with the new rules, but are adamant that the EU landing obligation as established in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) is not working as intended.
The industry representatives at the meeting drew attention to the administrative difficulties encountered in developing selectivity pilot projects which require special authorisations, the patchwork of rules contained in the many discard plans which render control difficult, the increase in working time and safety risks, clashes with national rules and the complexity of mixed fisheries management.
Europêche has called for the revision of Article 15 of the CFP as a matter of priority for the legislators.
There was less agreement over the mandatory introduction of cameras on board fishing vessels, although there was consensus on the need to guarantee business confidentiality and workers’ rights and to create incentives for its (voluntary) use.
Europêche members argued that cameras will not be the panacea to solve the landing obligation challenges and pointed to the fact that countries with a longer history of a discard ban – such as Norway and New Zealand – do not work with cameras on board.
The external dimension
Europêche members also referred to the importance of the external dimension of the CFP, particularly the mutually beneficial fisheries agreements signed with third countries and the key role played by the RFMOs in sustainable ocean governance. The industry welcomed the EU tough stance against IUU fishing and stressed that a level playing field is needed regarding the treatment of EU and non-EU fish products within the common market organisation.
Furthermore, the sector emphasised the need for coherence between the different European policies on fisheries, trade, social, and health. In this regard, it is fundamental for the fleet to eliminate trade preferences for seafood coming from countries connected with IUU fishing and serious labour abuses such as have been identified in Vietnam.
Europêche encouraged DG MARE, as the competent body for maritime spatial planning, to prioritise the fishing sector as a key user of the marine space in view of being first and foremost a low impact food producer and prevent the paradigm shift of the use of the sea from a source of food to a source of energy, particularly in the North Sea.
The industry representatives also used the occasion to recognise Aguiar Machado’s efforts, openness and commitment to sustainable fishing and a viable sector during his four years at the helm of DG MARE and wished him every success in his future endeavours as head of the EU Mission to the World Trade Organization where important discussions on fish subsidies are taking place.