Ladies and gentlemen, Good afternoon and welcome to the EU Pavilion here at Seafood Expo Global. Every year the European Commission organises an event here to draw attention to a particularly hot topic on fisheries. And I can think of few topics that require more urgent attention than the state of fish stocks in the Mediterranean Sea.
The Mediterranean is part of our shared heritage. It is part of our cultural heritage, going all the way back to the odyssey of Ulysses. And it is part of our economic heritage, a veritable hub of trade and economic growth. This was just as true in Marco Polo's time as it is today.
For millennia, Mediterranean fishermen have used the bountiful resources of the sea to forge their livelihoods. Fish and seafood have been a staple of the Mediterranean diet. They provide a dependable source of income for coastal communities.
Now this very vital resource our communities depend on – their bread and butter – is in serious danger, putting thousands of jobs at risk as a core part of our industry is eroded away.
Some may prefer to take an easy way out – to step back and simply let market forces push a dying generation of small-scale fishermen to seek sometimes desperate alternatives. Apart from the jobs at stake, we are losing a vital source of our food supply, further unsettling our security and leading to the tragedies we see unfolding on a daily basis.
We must do better, and I know we can because the solutions are out there. But with more than 90 percent of assessed fish stocks severely over-exploited, escalating costs and eroding profits, we need to take action and we need to take action now.
As you know, when it comes to sustainable fisheries, we in the EU are not starting from scratch.
- Member States have established fishing protected areas. They have adopted more than 40 national management plans.
- The EU is increasing financial support to foster scientific cooperation around the Mediterranean basin and improve the advice we receive.
- Most importantly, we have reformed our Common Fisheries Policy. 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.
But I am convinced that we can do more. We need to face up to our responsibilities: as policy makers, fishermen, scientists and civil society, including consumers. I want to ensure that we all contribute to solutions.
Experience shows that we can be successful – when we tackle challenges collectively. Take the outstanding recovery of bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean. We came together, we took concerted action, we achieved results. Fishermen who were questioning the recovery plan yesterday are praising its effects today.
Nevertheless, even with this success, we need to ensure fairer distribution of the rewards amongst those that have also made sacrifices but continue to face mounting pressures.
So today I am here to launch action. I am here to launch our campaign to raise awareness of this problem. A campaign to ensure MEDFISH4EVER.
Not only that. As you know, many Mediterranean stocks are shared with non-EU countries. That is why I have invited the fisheries ministers of all Mediterranean countries to come together and share their views at a ministerial conference this afternoon. Together, I want us to build a sustainable future for our fisheries and a profitable future for a competitive fishing industry.
Some of you might have attended our high-level seminar in Catania two months ago. And you will remember what I said then: despite everything, the recovery potential of Mediterranean stocks remains high. Our patient is ill, but still breathing. The diagnosis is serious, but there is still hope.
After the starting point of Catania, today's ministerial meeting will be an occasion to firm up our commitment to action. And in a year's time, I hope that we will adopt a ministerial declaration on sustainable fishing in the Mediterranean, to follow up on the commitments we made in Venice more than a decade ago.
Ladies and gentlemen, in his work "Natural Questions", Seneca celebrates at length the quality of red mullet, one of the iconic species that is part of our campaign today.
It is our respect for this cultural heritage, our resolve to face today's challenges head-on, and our responsibility to future generations that calls on us to take immediate action, to ensure MEDFISH4EVER.
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