Good morning and welcome to Catania. Welcome, above all, to this High-level seminar on the Status of the Stocks in the Mediterranean and on the CFP Approach. I would like to thank the Mediterranean Advisory Council for the initiative taken to address this important topic and, of course, the Italian authorities for being our gracious host here in Catania.

On the 14th July last year, during the Commission's yearly meeting on "State of Fish Stocks and the Economic Performance of Fishing Fleets" – the meeting emphasised the dramatic decline of Mediterranean stocks.This concern was also greatly shared by MEDAC Chairman Giampaolo Buonfiglio. What we know for certain is that the efforts made by the sector, including reductions of the fleet, have not produced the expected results. Giampaolo stressed the urgent need for interventions. I fully agreed.

Some 300 years ago, in 1693, Catania was hit by a devastating earthquake. Almost two thirds of the town's population were killed.This came less than three decades after one of the most violent volcanic eruptions the region had ever seen, when lava flows from Mount Etna destroyed at least 10 villages before reaching Catania's city walls. The lava filled the harbour and demolished buildings and farmland, causing huge economic damage. Mount Etna, as you know, is still very much an active volcano. But we are here today because we are facing a different type of threat. A threat not to our economy on land, but to our economy at sea. And, contrary to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, today's threat is largely a result of human causes.

You will hear today from eminent scientists who will present the state of the fish stocks in the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, we already have a good idea what they will tell us: most stocks are not doing well. The facts are undisputed: fish stocks in the Mediterranean are shrinking. Some are on the verge of depletion. All in all, 93% of the fish stocks assessed are over-exploited. There are several reasons for this bad state. Pollution and climate change certainly play a role. But there can be no doubt that extensive overfishing is one of the key causes. True: for many stocks – actually, for far too many –  we still don't know enough. In the Eastern part of the Mediterranean, for instance, serious gaps in time series prevent us from drawing meaningful conclusions. In addition, half of all fish we catch in the Mediterranean are not even recorded. Just think about it: one out of every two fish we catch!

However, these gaps in knowledge cannot be used as an excuse to delay action. We need to act. Why? Among all other important reasons, because our fishermen themselves depend on healthy stocks. And if we do not act now, they are the ones that will pay the price. I am of course fully aware that some of the stocks are shared with neighbouring countries. And I plan to discuss the management of those stocks with our partners, and work to get their political buy-in. But I strongly believe that the EU should take the lead in seeking out solutions. Especially on stocks predominantly fished by the EU. So today we should discuss what we can do at EU level. We need to face up to our responsibilities: as policy makers, fishermen, scientists and civil society. I want to ensure that we all contribute to solutions.

As you know, we in the EU are not starting from scratch. In the past few years we have already made considerable efforts. Under the Mediterranean Regulation, Member States have adopted national management plans for the main fisheries. They have established fishing protected areas and today there are over 200 producer organisations in the EU, managing our fisheries and guiding producers towards sustainable fishing. But most importantly, we have reformed our Common Fisheries Policy – our CFP. As a result, we now have a science-based policy that looks for long-term conservation measures, adapts to different sub-regions, and works in synergy with regional organisations.

How can the CFP help the Mediterranean? Let me list a few examples:

-       The CFP puts an end to the harmful practice of discarding unwanted fish. We adopted our first discard plan in the Mediterranean last year – thanks to the hard work by MEDAC and all the Member States concerned. The Commission is also preparing proposals for the first two multiannual management plans – in the Adriatic and the Western Mediterranean.

-       The CFP gives Member States the possibility to act together, in regional groups, to manage their shared resources. The Commission is here to assist in this regionalisation process.

-       The CFP will improve the science we so urgently need – and I was at a conference in Malta just a week ago to discuss this. I have made a proposal to improve our Data Collection Framework, and I count on you to help us pass this legislation rapidly.

-       Finally, I am also very hopeful that new technologies may help us. I have heard of drones being trialled to control fisheries, telling us not only where a boat is located, but whether it has its nets in the water. DNA analysis can verify whether the fish we buy are what they claim to be. Participatory surveillance allows us to harness the power of space technology and Big Data to detect suspicious fishing vessels that could be involved in illegal fishing. These examples show: we must think creatively.

Ladies and gentlemen, the CFP reform is adopted. It provides us with the tools, the political and the financial means to act. This includes funding possibilities under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. We have to fully implement the CFP to achieve our objective – Maximum Sustainable Yield – by 2020 at the latest. But as you know, it will take a few years before EU management plans kick in. In the meantime, we cannot simply sit back and watch our resources dwindle. If we don’t take action now there is a serious risk that stocks will decline beyond the point of no return. Reversing the trend will require an exceptional effort – but it is possible. Scientists have told us that the recovery potential of Mediterranean stocks remains very high.

Our patient is ill, but still breathing. The diagnosis is serious, but there is still hope. That is why, twelve years after the Venice Ministerial Declaration, I have decided to call this high-level meeting. We urgently need renewed political momentum. And I want Catania to be the starting point. This conference could mark a much needed beacon of hope. Yet as I say, there is no time to be lost. We cannot continue to sit and wait, we must act now and we must be bold.

Today, it is up to you to tell me what the appropriate tools are to manage our fisheries sustainably. What are the quick wins? Where can we take immediate action? If we start now, then in a years' time we can anticipate a renewed political declaration bearing strong commitments at Ministerial level, to follow up on our commitments made in Venice 12 years ago. And I want to ensure that we will be in a good position to discuss our invigorated approach with our neighbours. I hope to bring together Ministers from all Mediterranean countries in April during the Seafood Expo Global in Brussels.

In addition I will be travelling to several key partnering countries to seek their engagement, explore solutions, and assess the many opportunities the blue economy can offer. Of course we will also continue to engage strongly with the GFCM and its valuable work. And I hope that the EU Member States will share the Commission's ambition to make things happen.

Ladies and gentlemen, dear colleagues, I want to thank MEDAC again for suggesting the organisation of this seminar, and our Italian hosts for making it possible. My warmest thanks also to all Ministers in the room for showing their commitment. Earthquakes and volcanos are natural threats – ones we can only prepare for and adapt to. But stopping the man made threats is entirely in our hands. I look forward to us continuing, and indeed developing,  our good work.

Thank you.

 

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