Fish stocks in the Mediterranean are shrinking. Some are on the verge of depletion. All in all, 93% of the fish stocks assessed are over-exploited. Declining stocks have been signalled not only by fishermen who catch less and less fish but are also by scientists who have been monitoring the situation over the years.
An estimated 10,000-12,000 marine species inhabit the Mediterranean Sea. But this extraordinary biodiversity is in grave danger, threatened by pollution, climate change but, most of all overfishing. Further delay in concerted action could result in irreversible damage and a collapse of key-stocks that are essential to the fisheries sector.
As a shared resource, this would be a loss to all, but the impact on fishermen and especially small-scale fisheries would be crippling. Their very means of livelihood not to mention an ancient way of life would be lost. Continued profitability hand in hand with sustainability must therefore be the objective, putting the fisheries sector back on track.
In 2003, the Mediterranean nations signed a declaration in Venice that laid the foundation to improve scientific research, protect vulnerable areas and limit the fishing effort. EU member states reduced their fleets in an effort to ensure sustainable fishing. Our legislation features national and international fisheries management plans, catch limitations, and environmental requirements. Intense multilateral cooperation encourages all the countries that border the Mediterranean to play by the same rules.
Experience shows that we can be successful – when we tackle challenges collectively. The outstanding recovery of Bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean is a case in point. Concerted action to better manage this fishery led to concrete results and for the first time in years quotas are being raised.
But more needs to be done. For this reason, beyond the need for better implementation and regulation of existing measures, Commissioner Vella is launching a Mediterranean strategy to improve the state of the fishing stocks.
Key to this strategy is raising awareness about the urgency and dimensions of the problem at hand, but also to mobilise immediate and determined action by all, including the southern and eastern countries in the Mediterranean. Recent meetings have confirmed the political will to act. The Ministerial meeting with all Mediterranean countries on 27 April will carry forward the impetus to deliver a comprehensive approach.
On a grassroots level action can be taken by small-scale fisheries and coastal communities, but also bynational authorities, policy makers, key stakeholders, large industry fleets, NGOs and scientists. National, EU and multilateral policy must speak with one voice to establish short, medium and long-term goals.
The message is clear; everybody has to assume their part of the responsibility. Everyone, including consumers, needs to get involved if real and lasting change is to be achieved reviving healthy and profitable fisheries, not just securing existing jobs but creating new ones too.
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