Ministers,

Secretaries of State,

Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you very much. Marrakesh is a beautiful city, and this is a beautiful venue. But allow me to start with a confession: I do not want to be here today.

I do not want to be here today because it means that the fight against IUU fishing has not been won. Otherwise we would not need this event; we would not need to set aside this international day.

But IUU fishing continues to be a widespread plague. It respects neither laws nor borders. Worldwide, IUU fishing is estimated to be worth roughly 10 billion euros.

This is intolerable. It jeopardises all the hard work we are doing to let fish stocks recover and to keep them in a good shape. It creates unfair competition for honest fishermen, who go home empty-handed while ruthless operators line their pockets.

We see this especially in the Mediterranean Sea, where IUU fishing means plundering stocks that are often already in a perilous state.

We cannot turn a blind eye to this behaviour. We need to enforce the rules that we have. And work together to make IUU fishing a thing of the past.

And there is hope. Many brave men and women are fighting the good fight, tackling this problem wherever it occurs. This evening is also about recognising their achievements.

In the Strait of Sicily, for example, 7 countries – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Italy and Malta – are working together in what has been nicknamed the “Rym” project – Rym being the name of a Tunisian inspector who was instrumental in driving this initiative forward. Coordinated by the European Fisheries Control Agency EFCA, these countries have exchanged inspectors and information, deployed patrol vessels, and carried out joint inspections – 127 in 2 years. Meanwhile, EFCA has supported them by training 150 inspectors, 30 trainers and 4 fisheries monitoring centre operators.

Following the success of this joint inspection scheme, similar schemes have been initiated in the Black Sea, the Adriatic, and the Levant and the Ionian Seas. And I think this is an excellent model that should spread even further.

Our message is clear: no area in the Mediterranean or Black Sea should be exempt from surveillance, control and reporting. For IUU culprits, there can be no place to hide.

EFCA, together with EU Member States and the contracting parties, is already deploying a dozen aircraft and helicopters and more than 50 vessels to patrol coastal and high seas in the Mediterranean.

But we also need to explore how we can best use new technologies to better trace fishing vessels. Low-cost digital technology and geolocalisation systems now exist for small-scale vessels as well.

We need to work on making catch certificates less vulnerable to fraud. In April, I launched a new EU IT tool to digitise today’s paper-based catch certificates. By making it easier for countries to check seafood products entering the EU market, it will make life more difficult for those seeking to abuse the system.

But technology can always only be part of the answer. Above all, we need to show continued political will to tackle this scourge to the best of our ability.

By implementing the GFCM regional IUU action plan or the FAO Port State Measures Agreement. Countries must fully assume their responsibility, be it as flag, coastal, port and market state.

By investing in control measures. Like Tunisia, which has recently recruited 70 new inspectors.

By adapting national legislation to new forms of IUU fishing practices, giving inspectors the adequate means to detect, pursue, and prosecute these activities.

Or by reinforcing regional cooperation and training. Regional academies could be an excellent forum to learn from one another. What about exploring new forms of training – “on-line” via e-learning platforms and “on-site” on patrol vessels?

Ladies and gentlemen,

The fight against IUU fishing is in full swing. Winning it will depend on our continued legal, financial, and operational cooperation. At all levels. As I have said before, this is not just an environmental duty. It’s a moral imperative. To prevent unfair competition. To ensure that people in coastal communities can live good, decent lives. Not just for our generation, but for the generations to come.

Thank you.

*  *  *

Check against delivery