Statement by Commissioner Damanaki on the ICCAT Annual Meeting and bluefin tuna
It has been for several years now that the state of the bluefin tuna stock remains a cause for major concern. Despite the efforts made so far, in particular by the EU, and the progress achieved, there are still open questions regarding how we can ensure the long sustainability of the species. This, in turn, is the only way by which our fishermen can keep on with their activity.
We are still working on our proposal for ICCAT's upcoming Annual Meeting in mid-November. In the Commission, I will be working on it together with colleagues of mine, who might have different approaches and viewpoints. In any case, we all agree that we should avoid living again the recent past's difficult kind of situations. That had caused serious delays in our decision-making and affected our engagement with our international partners.
Before the Commission comes forward with its proposal in a concrete and formal way, the views of ministers on a number of questions are important.
First of all the level of the TAC needs to be set.
The ICCAT Scientific Committee informs that there are indications of some improvements due to our strong efforts and commitments. But it places emphasis on the fact that in spite of recent improvements, data limitations for the stock assessment still remain, in particular regarding the uncertainties linked to historical data. Also, it underlines that the fishery is currently adapting to new management measures and that it is necessary to have at least three more years of information to fully understand its implications on the stock.
Since the scientific advice suggests that significant uncertainties remain, we should remain prudent. We cannot abandon the precautionary principle. Otherwise, if we were to opt for a different course of action, then we would run the risk of being worse off next year for this very important stock. Our first idea therefore is to focus on a prudent approach.
Regarding the timeframe, the ICCAT Scientific Committee gives the possibility to achieve the Maximum Sustainable Yield in terms of stock biomass by 2022. For that it has noted that maintaining catches at either the current or a lower TAC is consistent with the goal to achieve the Maximum Sustainable Yield in terms of stock biomass by 2022. However, it also indicates the Commission might consider a different probability of rebuilding standard considering the unquantified uncertainties.
We also see that a 2020 timeframe would be in line with our commitments under the Johannesburg Agreement and perhaps even more importantly the objectives set in the EU Marine Strategy Framework Directive, to which we have all signed up. Still, however, we must keep in mind that in order to meet the objective under the Marine Strategy Framework Directive for a good environmental status by 2020, we would need to talk about a TAC set at apprx. 6000 tons. This I can understand will be very hard to our industry, and this is not what I am proposing.
My idea after all is to keep the time frame to 2020 and discuss about a substantial reduction of the TAC.
There are other issues, as well.
Eliminating overcapacity is essential, as it has been a key driver of overfishing. Based on scientific advice we know that there is still substantial overcapacity. We need to continue our efforts to eliminate fishing overcapacity in a lasting manner. We also need to be vigilant and keep pressurising other ICCAT Parties to also meet this objective.
Furthermore, ICCAT has adopted various technical measures to ensure a sustainable management of bluefin tuna, which include minimal size of catches and fishing seasons for different gears.
Still, there are currently no sanctuaries for bluefin tuna during the spawning season. On the basis of the scientific advice, which has identified six spawning areas, we need to look carefully in this important issue and come up with the most appropriate way forward.
I am fully aware of the effect that any reduction in the TAC will have on our fishermen. However, solid decisions are needed if we want to achieve long-term sustainability of our stocks and profitability for our sector. This is the very basis of our policy from which I think we should not depart. At the same time, we should of course be willing to assist the sector, where possible, under the framework of the EFF ( European Fisheries Fund).
The way forward is to ensure the recovery of bluefin tuna and its long-term sustainability for the benefit of our fishermen.