Ladies and gentlemen,

I am very pleased to be here with you again today. As you know, this is a special session, an anniversary of sorts.

For four decades, the GFCM has worked for sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Last year we gave the GFCM's institutional framework an overhaul. We now have the means to act quickly, decisively and effectively. Now we must do so. There is no excuse. I said it earlier this year in Sicily, and I said it again at the Ministerial Conference I convened in Brussels last month: We need to act, we need to act now, and we need to act together.

So today, I want us to make history. I want this 40th session to be a game-changer. When people look back, another 40 years down the road, I want them to see this session as the beginning of a new era. An era where we take concrete action to protect key species and stop the collapse of stocks.  An era where we adopt a coherent strategy that lets our fish stocks recover and our fishermen sleep soundly at night.

We all know how much fisheries mean for our economies. In the Mediterranean and Black Sea, over 200 000 people depend on fisheries for their jobs. Without those jobs, they and their families would struggle to survive. Can we afford to stand by and watch those jobs disappear? Can we risk the resulting poverty and desperation?

Because that is the future we are looking at. And thanks to GFCM's work, we are all well aware of the problems. We know that the vast majority – about 90% - of the stocks assessed by GFCM are overfished. We know that, as a result, productivity and prices are declining, putting jobs at risk. We know that many fish stocks are shared between countries, making reliable data harder to get and corrective action harder to take. And we know that there are still gaps in our scientific advice.

So yes: our fishermen are looking at an uncertain future. And the more they worry about tomorrow, the more they overfish today, making their future even bleaker. It is high time that we break out of this vicious circle!

That is why, in February, the EU sounded the alarm at the high-level conference we organised in Sicily. And that is why I called a Ministerial Conference for all Mediterranean countries last month.

I was pleased to see on both occasions that the EU's concerns are widely shared. The critical state of our fisheries is beyond doubt. And I sensed a real will to act, to restore our fisheries – and our fishing economy – to good health.

I want to build on this will. Next year in March, I want us to adopt a Ministerial Declaration for a sustainable fishing sector in the Mediterranean. This should be a joint Declaration, backed by all Mediterranean states. And so the EU will invite all GFCM members to participate in this process.

In the meantime, until March:

  • We will push within ICCAT for a better management of Mediterranean swordfish.
  • We will provide additional funding for FAO to support long-term scientific surveys.
  • We will enhance our cooperation with non-EU countries to improve control, fight illegal fishing, and diversify the fishing industry.
  • And we will continue to advise non-EU countries how they can use the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the European Neighborhood Instrument to fund such measures.

And just to be clear: the EU is pushing for stronger cooperation not only in the Mediterranean, but in the Black Sea as well. And I will pass on exactly this message when I attend the Black Sea conference on the blue economy in two weeks.

But, dear colleagues, we also need you. You all – and our joint work together within the GFCM – will be critical to our success.

And that is why, as I said, I want this session to be a game changer. An event where we take the next step in our cooperation and move from words to action.

How? I believe that the GFCM's work in the coming year should focus on five main areas: scientific and economic advice, control and IUU, small-scale fisheries, recreational fisheries, and multilateral cooperation.

Let me go through them very briefly.

  • First, on scientific issues, we need to further improve data collection and scientific advice, including the cooperation among scientists. But it is becoming equally important that our scientific data is translated into relative economic impact that can allow decision makers to understand the full consequences of what is at stake. This will help us take management measures that better protect the marine environment. So far, the GFCM has adopted 16 management and conservation measures. I am convinced that, faced with the alarming prospect of severe reductions in employment and profitability, we need more.So we are using this session to propose several new measures, based on the excellent work by the GFCM Scientific Advice Committee.
  • Second, we need to ensure that everybody plays by the same rules when it comes to control and the fight against IUU fishing. If needed, the EU is ready to help others put in place the necessary tools to ensure control and compliance.
  • Third, we need to take targeted action to support small-scale fisheries. Because let's not forget: most of the 100,000 fishing boats in the Mediterranean and Black Sea are small-scale. We can help these fishermen promote their products, diversify their sources of income, and breathe new life into coastal communities.
  • Fourth, if we really want our fish stocks to recover, we need to regulate recreational fisheries – not least to avoid conflicts with small-scale commercial fisheries.
  • Finally, we need to enhance North-South and East-West cooperation. Countries need to work together on capacity building and common long-term plans, to nurture our fish stocks back to health. 

I know this is ambitious. We are asking a lot – but we know that we have a lot to lose. So we are looking into increasing the EU's financial support to make sure that the GFCM can tackle these issues effectively.

And let's be clear: simply throwing money at these issues is not the solution. Above all, we need one overarching strategy. We need a coherent multiannual plan. A plan that is fully in line with the UN's newly adopted sustainable development goal to protect and preserve our oceans. A plan that ties in with the EU's ongoing efforts to improve ocean governance around the world.

So I think that the GFCM's work to establish a midterm strategy for 2017 to 2020 is an excellent initiative. And we would like to see it implemented within the next three years.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I know that we all want to keep our fish stocks healthy, protect our food security, and ensure a viable future for our fishermen and coastal communities. I also know we all agree on the need to build trust, strengthen cooperation and improve fisheries management in the region.

But agreeing on principles is one thing. We now need to move forward, together. It is time to act. It is time to build a new partnership between all Mediterranean and Black Sea countries, EU Member States and non-EU countries, GFCM and FAO.

Forty years after its first general meeting, for GFCM this is truly a game-changing moment.

So let's do it. Today, let's make history!

Thank you.



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