Sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean

Sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean
European Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Karmenu Vella. EFE / File
The facts are indisputable: the Mediterranean fish stocks are declining. Some of them are even on the verge of exhaustion. Overall, 93% of fish stocks that have been assessed are overexploited. The European Commission, which reaffirms its commitment to the growth and jobs agenda, is very concerned about what this may mean for the thousands of fishermen fishing in the Mediterranean. Therefore, it has launched a Mediterranean Strategy to improve the situation of fish stocks. On 27 April a ministerial conference was held after a major forum held under the main meeting of European industry: Fair seafood (Seafood Expo Global).

There are several reasons for the poor state of fish stocks. Pollution and climate change, no doubt, are partly to blame. However, it is clear that the massive overfishing is one of the root causes. It is true that, in the case of many populations (too many) still do not know enough. In the eastern Mediterranean, for example, there are significant gaps in time series that prevent us draw meaningful conclusions. In addition, half of all fish caught in the Mediterranean is not even registered. Therefore, we have only a partial view of this matter. But the evidence is equally devastating: fishermen report that caught fewer fish from year to year. In fact, their livelihoods, their own industry, are at risk.

The new Mediterranean Strategy of the European Commission is a commitment to the recovery of fish stocks, so that we can fulfill our commitment to the recovery of fishing. Our strategy is based on many years of work to inspire a sense of solidarity among fishermen. In 2003 the Mediterranean nations signed a declaration which laid the foundations for improving scientific research, protect vulnerable areas and limit fishing. The EU Member States reduced their fleets in an effort to ensure sustainable fisheries. Our legislative proposal provides management plans national and international fishing, catch limitations and environmental requirements. A strong multilateral cooperation encourages all countries bordering the Mediterranean to respect the same rules.

And experience shows that we can succeed if we tackle the challenges together. Take for example the extraordinary recovery of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. We got together, we agreed, and thus achieve results. Fishermen who recently questioned the recovery plan today laud their results. But we must go further. Fortunately, there is now a genuine shared that we must act with all populations feeling. At a recent conference, held in February in the Italian city of Catania, I met with fishermen's associations, European scientists and NGOs. All were aligned with government representatives present. This political will is what is needed to achieve a comprehensive approach to all neighboring Mediterranean countries to join.

The EU took the initiative in the case of bluefin tuna and has been shown that it was the right decision. Now we extend this successful performance to other fish species, across national borders and fishing traditions.

Several ministers of EU fisheries and coastal Mediterranean countries outside the EU were in Brussels on the occasion of the fair Global Seafood Expo in late April. What I intend to build on the momentum that was generated in Catania. We have started monitoring a joint statement on sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean, at this time next year, you should give new impetus and provide a new vision for conservation and sustainability in the Mediterranean.

For this I have also been in contact with some major EU partners in the Mediterranean. Only in the last month I was in Algeria and Turkey, and met with representatives of Tunisia. They all expressed their understanding for the urgency and willingness to act. This feeling of involvement of all stakeholders in the largest possible number of Mediterranean countries is what they need fishermen. Joint efforts and commitment to our long-term strategy offset, as they deserve, fishermen from all over this great sea.

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