Ministers,

Secretaries of State,

Colleagues,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Thank you to the GFCM and the Moroccan government for bringing us together today. And thank you, Minister Aziz Akhannouch, for your warm hospitality.

Two years ago, in Malta, we made history, together, at the highest political level. To the hundreds of thousands of people in the Mediterranean and Black Sea region who depend on healthy seas and sustainable fisheries, we made a promise. A promise of urgent change.

We signed the MedFish4Ever Declaration because the situation was dire. Scientists had long been sounding the alarm. Over 90% of the main fish stocks in the Mediterranean were overfished. Many were on the verge of collapse. All this put the very future of the fisheries sector at stake.

With MedFish4Ever we aimed to turn this situation around. For the first time ever we joined forces, EU countries and neighbours alike.

Together, we agreed on four main actions:

  • To enhance data collection and scientific evaluation;
  • To establish an ecosystem-based fisheries management framework;
  • To develop a culture of compliance and eliminate IUU fishing;
  • And to support sustainable small-scale fisheries and aquaculture.
  • We also called on all riparian States to ratify and implement
  • the FAO Port State Measures Agreement;
  •  the Barcelona Convention and its protocols;
  • And the UN Framework Convention on climate change.
    Our ambitions were far reaching. We knew that they would require hard work. There was no quick fix. We were not looking at a short sprint, but at a marathon – requiring step after step after step of determined effort perseverance, and dedication to the cause.
    And today we are here to evaluate how far we have come. To check whether the MedFish4Ever Declaration is still the right roadmap to guide us, or whether we need to chart a different course.
    In a few minutes, our friends from the GFCM Secretariat will walk us through our main achievements, two years down the road. But let me already flag a few milestones of which I believe we can all be proud.
    First, since starting this process, we have adopted an impressive number of 25 GFCM decisions.
    Together, they have allowed us to
    • reinforce regional cooperation;
    • put in place new multi-annual management plans and conservation measures for key commercial species;
    • strengthen compliance and the fight against IUU fishing,
    • and build a strategy for the sustainable development of aquaculture.

Second, we have established a sub-regional approach – an excellent tool to address different local circumstances across the two sea basins concerned.

Third, for the first time ever, we have explicitly included small-scale fisheries in our scope of action. This is particularly important because small-scale fishers make up the vast majority of fisheries in this region.

And finally, we have reinforced data collection and scientific knowledge. For example, in December last year, over 450 marine scientists and experts from 42 countries gathered in the first ever GFCM Fish Forum. A historic moment that has resulted in fruitful scientific discussions, and a lasting network. 

We have done all of this and much more in a spirit of solidarity and of partnership.

Since 2018, the EU has been carrying out specific control and inspection programmes in all EU sea basins, including the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, in coordination with the European Fisheries Control Agency.

The first-ever multiannual management plan for demersal fisheries in the western Mediterranean Sea will gradually reduce fishing effort by 40%.

We are establishing extensive Marine Protected Areas and fishing restricted areas. In some cases, like for hake in the Gulf of Lion, the affected Member States are applying seasonal and spatial closures to protect particularly depleted stocks.

And in April, the EU launched a new IT tool to digitise today’s paper-based catch certificates, thereby reinforcing the fight against IUU fishing and reducing the risk of fraud.

But we are still only at the beginning of our 10-year journey. And we cannot afford to be complacent. Recent GFCM data may show some encouraging trends. But let’s be clear: stocks are still in a perilous state.

Jobs in the fisheries sector are at stake. People’s livelihoods are on the line. The coastal communities they live and work in, and the health of seas, depend on our action. Action on the ground. That, as I see it, is the main challenge we are facing today.

We need to consolidate our efforts at the political, strategic and, in particular, operational level. A task that is not made easier by external factors like climate change and marine pollution, which make us increasingly vulnerable.

But there is no alternative. We share a common obligation and responsibility – to our people and to future generations.

Like many of you, I know the Mediterranean and its fisheries reality from personal experience. The Mediterranean is in my heart and in my blood. It is our shared past – now we need to work for our shared future where our collective challenges act as a factor of unity amongst partners.

Thank you.

*  *  *

Check against delivery