Fish stocks in the Mediterranean have been declining for decades. Over 90% of the fish stocks assessed are over-exploited, and despite recent efforts the situation is not improving. Managing fish stocks is complicated by the fact that many of them are shared with non-EU countries.
How can we halt this decline and ensure a future for our fish and for the fishermen who rely on them to make a living? A high-level seminar in Catania, Sicily, today and tomorrow, addresses this question and launches a wider reflection process that should trigger decisive action.
The seminar, organised by the European Commission and the Mediterranean Advisory Council (MEDAC), brings together key decision makers and stakeholders, including delegations of all 8 Mediterranean EU Member States, to discuss how best to tackle the situation. As set out by Karmenu Vella, Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, in his opening speech: "The EU should lead the way by example. We need to face up to our responsibilities now: as policy makers, fishermen, scientists and civil society. I want to ensure that we all contribute to solutions."
The aim of the seminar is to agree on the most effective way forward. We hope to leave Catania with a clear vision of what the appropriate tools are to manage Mediterranean fisheries sustainably, and where we can take immediate action at EU or national level.
Action by the EU and its Member States is not starting from scratch. Under the EU's Mediterranean Regulation, Member States have adopted national management plans for the main fisheries and have established fishing protected areas. The EU's recently reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) provides the political and financial means to act. This includes funding possibilities under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.
But more urgent action is needed to reverse the situation. It will take some time before the tools under the CFP, such as EU multiannual management plans, are adopted. Without action now, there is a serious risk that stocks will decline beyond the point of no return.
Catania is the starting point for the development of a new strategy for the Mediterranean. Once EU Member States have agreed on strong alignment and committed themselves to cooperate within the EU, the intention is to bring neighbouring countries on board within the international setting of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean, GFCM. In this process, the EU should lead the way by example, to ensure better governance for sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean Sea.
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