Mr Cataudella, Mr Srour, Ladies and gentlemen,
One year's progress
First I'd like to say it is a great pleasure to finally meet you all in my capacity as European Commissioner.
I know that this time last year you had fixed some important priorities and I think we can be proud of the progress made since then. I refer, in particular, to the reform of the organisation.
The GFCM is now better equipped to play its role in a modern, competent and effective way.
I can now see this role – and the leadership - of GFCM grow further in the future.
Together, we have the power to reverse some very negative trends of overfishing – the power to make a real difference. And we need to use that power urgently and positively. And in order to do that, I am sure we also have the goodwill.
Today's fishing industry could only be sustainable if it is based on scientific advice.
It is no secret that many Mediterranean species are heavily overfished. Stocks are critically low, in some cases even in danger.
To reverse this potentially devastating trend, we need scientific knowledge of their status as a basis for rigorous action.
I know the organisation is making great efforts in this direction, but reliable data is still unavailable for far too many stocks. This makes it impossible to provide accurate assessments.
We have to make a serious commitment to do more to gather this crucial data; and then, equally importantly, we have to share it among ourselves.
Doing more means that each Contracting Party cooperates to facilitate regular monitoring and data collection and that every country undertakes all actions necessary to support the work of our scientists.
Working with science rather than against it is in our common interest. It is the modus operandi on which the EU works and which I continue to encourage. I would like to see such cooperation extend throughout the Mediterranean and the Black sea. I believe such cooperation will be the basis on which we can ensure the longer term survival of both our fish stocks, and our fishing industries. The Commission stands ready to assist our partners through all available means to improve the quality of work and cooperation with the scientific community.
The knowledge obtained, combined with an in depth socio-economic analysis, must remain central to our collective decision-making process. A science-based approach will be instrumental to increasing our collective trust and buy-in amongst all the Parties. Ultimately, we all stand to benefit.
But we also need to act in cases where we don't yet have the necessary science to develop proper management measures. Lack of data should not be an excuse for not protecting the stocks and we should be guided by the precautionary approach,
Management Plans/ Cooperation with third countries
Like any other sector, our industry needs to be well planned and well managed. Our efforts must be conceived with the bigger picture in mind.
Because we share many of our stocks among different countries, we need to work towards common long-term plans throughout the Mediterranean. They can be tailored to the different sub-regions – and we need to manage them properly, in order to bring our marine living resources back to health.
I know that cooperation is not always easy, but we have a vested interest in working together: by increasing yields, we will restore the sector's confidence and its economic prospects for the future.
We have a similar situation in the Black Sea, which is also shared with third countries and also has stocks in a critical condition.
Here too the Commission is advocating a common approach, with transparent management standards that translate into concrete operational measures. This was my message in March during the Black Sea Stakeholders Conference in Sofia.
We will continue to push for progress in both sea basins, precisely because we have fish stocks in common. If we do not – we will suffer collectively - economically, socially and politically – through diminished resources vital for our very own livelihood.
The prerequisite is that all countries, including the non-GFCM members, get on board. It is imperative that we reach out to them, also via the other international organisations active in the Med such as the Union for the Mediterranean and the Dialogue 5+5, so that even if they don’t join, at least they can be aware of our common motivation and initiatives.
Level playing field/compliance
We also need a level playing field between all parties, especially in the area of compliance.
The reasons for a level playing field are several, and they are in fact the same reasons as to why we have to have complete and uniform compliance with the rules:
If not everyone is playing by the same rules, we will not save our industry and we will not have sufficient stocks to feed our children in the future.
Apart from fisheries, I would like to make some comments about blue growth and other maritime opportunities to which our fishing industries are also connected.
Some of you may think that with fisheries in a poor state of recovery, the outlook for the Mediterranean is rather bleak.
I beg to disagree. We will be able to keep fishing if we restrain the efforts now and let the stocks recover. It has been done elsewhere: for example, the haddock fishery in the North East Atlantic is already giving increased returns from fishing the stock at a sustainable level.
It can also be done in the Mediterranean. So first let's take care of our stocks.
In parallel, the blue economy has opened up new opportunities for our fishermen.
Diversification allows them to expand their business.
There are plenty of opportunities in the maritime economy and fishing communities can also engage in other promising activities, for example fish farming or ecotourism where their vessels could be utilised for tourist excursions, research and education purposes. I also see an important role for them to contribute towards cleaning up our seas through collecting plastic litter and ghost gear such as abandoned fishing nets.
The knowledge of fishermen cultural heritage, underwater archaeological sites and local fishing traditions is an economic asset that can be better deployed.
Right now we have in fact some fishermen testing the long-term viability of such alternatives in a pilot project called "Guardians of the Sea" that the Commission is carrying out with the support of the European Parliament.
My point is that the Mediterranean Sea has a great potential for sustainable growth and job creation and fishermen are set to benefit.
It is up to us to find smart ways to exploit it without depleting its resources.
I am determined to engage positively and constructively with all of you as the members of the GFCM as well as with partnering countries from outside of the EU. As you are aware the EU is active on many fronts. Encouraging sustainable business models within the Blue Economy is one of my personal priorities.
We are in fact only just starting to fully appreciate the extent of the economic impact of blue-industries on our economy. I want to work to seize these opportunities and attract further investment across all dimensions of the Mediterranean.
With new opportunity, however, must come added responsibility.
As EU Commissioner, I continue to urge our Member States to live up to their obligations to comply with strict EU standards. I can assure you that when rules are broken, the Commission will take all necessary action to ensure responsibilities are fulfilled.
The benefits of the EU’s commitments however, clearly extend beyond EU borders and across the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions. For which reason I very much encourage all parties to remain equally ambitious in your commitments and to agree to our proposals to tackle overfishing.
The scientific evidence justifying urgent measures has been clear enough – it is now high-time that national management plans fully reflect reductions in fishing capacity and effort before the end of the year and to ensure that such measures are sufficiently fit for purpose.
My commitment to you is that I am not only prepared, but determined to make sure EU resources are deployed in ways that take account of the full extent of the challenges our common waters face.
So ladies and gentlemen, my aspiration is for us to work as partners in the years to come, hopefully welcoming new members into the organisation soon, to counter any irresponsible use of marine resources, to stop the downward trend in our stocks, and to find new outlets for our people and new potential for the Mediterranean Sea.