Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
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Driving the Blue Economy forward

Driving the Blue Economy forward

From January 1st  2017, the European Commission department dealing with maritime affairs and fisheries will have an entirely new set-up. Bernhard Friess will be heading the Directorate for Maritime Policy and Blue Economy. We asked him his views on some of the most important strands of the maritime economy.

Mr Friess, are there good economic prospects for the sea?

Definitely. The seas and oceans can certainly be a source of jobs and prosperity – but only if they are healthy, safe and sustainably managed. To drive forward key maritime sectors like renewable energy, aquaculture, tourism and Blue biotech, we need to improve ocean knowledge, planning and security; provide adequate support with EU funds; and improve cooperation between countries, regions and businesses. That is the rationale behind the EU's Blue Growth strategy, which brings together economic growth and sustainable ecosystems in one coherent policy. And that is what we will strive to do in the new department that I'm helping set up for early 2017.

 

© Bernhard Friess

One of the policies you will be responsible for is aquaculture, which is not faring too well in the EU – compared to other parts of the world. Is there a future for our aquaculture?

It is true that today many EU regions are missing out on the jobs and growth that new aquaculture businesses can bring about. Why? Because, to develop, aquaculture needs three things: business certainty, lean administrative procedures and adequate space. And having all three together in one place is rare. To address this, each country has now adopted a national plan, and the Commission is working with each national authority in detail. We have also produced guidance on how to comply with EU environmental rules without losing efficiency, and on how to reduce red tape and still maintain or even increase environmental protection. And importantly, we have allocated €1.2 billion of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund to the sustainable development of EU aquaculture. We believe this collective effort can lead to a 25% increase in production volume by 2020: this is a realistic figure in that it is achievable economically, in a fully sustainable way, and without compromising on our very high-quality, environmental and consumer protection standards. "Farmed in the EU" must continue to stand for high-quality and sustainably farmed fish.

 

Can "Farmed in the EU" compete with the rest of the world?

Well, you must understand our farmers operate under very strict requirements – as I said before, our standards for environmental protection, animal welfare and consumer health are among the highest in the world. We are also a relatively small player in this sector. This means that EU aquaculture will never be able to compete on quantity – and I don't think we should. Instead, we should focus on our strengths.

We are world leaders in product quality, research, environmental standards, sanitation and animal health and welfare. Moreover, in contrast to imported products, the seafood for sale in Europe is usually produced nearby, reducing the environmental impacts of long-distance transport.

This quality and sustainability are the competitive edge we should capitalise  on, and the first thing to do is make sure that consumers know about it, hence our labelling rules and the voluntary labels that help producers explain their products to consumers.

In addition, producer organisations can receive financial support to run marketing campaigns and support certification schemes.

Finally, our awareness-raising "Farmed in the EU" campaign brings aquaculture into local schools across Europe to let people, especially young people, know that farmed products are fresh, local and produced sustainably.

 

What is the role that the Integrated Maritime Policy plays in climate change adaptation?

The impact of climate change on the oceans will have a huge influence on life on this planet – human and non-human. Some effects will be plainly visible, such as ice melting in the Arctic, changes in fish distribution, or rising sea levels. But that’s not all. Changes in ocean circulation have an enormous impact on terrestrial weather patterns. Reducing uncertainty over that impact will reduce the costs of adaptation: for instance, predicting sea-level rises will enable us to protect coastal populations and invest offshore with more confidence. To reduce the uncertainty  on  climate change, the EU's Integrated Maritime Policy places particular emphasis on making marine and ocean data more reliable, available and accessible. It also funds basic ocean research. Life began in the oceans and DNA diversity there is greater than on land. The development of new products such as pharmaceuticals rests on the foundations of curiosity-driven research. And scientific discovery is not a linear process, so all research lines are strategic. Just think of ocean energy. There is a real possibility that waves and tides will power our future – and indeed the EU is pioneering this development. We expect to move to the industrial phase within a decade – and by 2050, ocean energy might meet up to 10% of the EU's power demand. Imagine what that would mean in terms of a stable and infinitely renewable supply of energy, and what that would mean in terms of mitigating climate change and reducing carbon emissions!

 

Competition for maritime space, especially along the coasts, is one of the challenges we are facing. What is the EU doing to help? 

In 2014, we made Maritime Spatial Planning compulsory for all EU countries. This is a tool that allows all concurrent uses of maritime space – economic, environmental, and others – to be managed in a coherent way whilst minimising competition with other activities or negative impacts on the environment.

 

2017 has been declared by the UN the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. How does the EU support this sector?

Europe's coasts are already popular tourist destinations – and fisheries and aquaculture can tap into this popularity. The EU can help by supporting moves to update the tourist offer that already exists – and to create new offers. For instance, we have encouraged the people who have left the fishing sector to put their expertise to good use and fight marine litter, preserve marine sites or pass on their knowledge – in short, to become "guardians of the sea". Another project promotes the use of artificial reefs to boost coastal and maritime tourism.

There are many other ongoing projects that support the move away from fisheries in favour of activities like pesca -tourism, eco-tours or monitoring of pollution. The results are encouraging, which suggests that there is significant scope for alternatives to fishing that are both environmentally and economically viable.

More generally, since 2014 we have been fostering dialogue, for example between cruise operators, and promoting Europe's rich maritime heritage overseas. We are now planning marketing campaigns in China and the US, to put Europe firmly on the tourist map.

We are more than ready to fund new ideas. In November, the European Commission made available €1.5 million for the creation of nautical routes linking up heritage sites across Europe. Similarly, we are currently deciding which projects will receive funding to set up underwater cultural routes. And the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund can finance creative projects, cultural or gastronomic, for leisure or for industry. Our new Guide to Funding gives operators and start-ups a helpful overview of available funding.

In other words, it is by funding new ideas, fostering dialogue and being open to the world that I believe we can really diversify our tourist offer and make it attractive. I said at the start that oceans need to be clean and healthy and that is true of our seas and coasts, too: if we use them sustainably, we can keep them open for business every day of every season, all year long – and even for many decades and centuries to come.

This interview was prepared in collaboration with the Observatorio Español de Acuicultura in the framework of the #CRIADOenlaUE campaign. For more details (in Spanish) see: http://www.observatorio-acuicultura.es/informacion-de-interes/entrevistas/entrevistas-friess-bernhard

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June  2017 - Issue 75
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