Speech by Lowri Evans at the Conference of the Chairpersons of Agriculture Committees Cyprus, 11-12 November 2012

Lowri Evans, Director-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission

Thank you very much for inviting me here today to discuss the Commission’s proposal of the Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

The main aim of this radical reform is to provide the building blocks for both healthy seas and healthy fishing communities. More fish means more jobs.

The first pillar of our reform is the obligation to reach maximum sustainable yields by the year 2015.

Sustainability comes about when we relieve the pressure placed on fish stocks. There is a simple formula; when fish stocks grow, more catches are possible, and they can be caught with less effort – reducing the cost of the operations. This allows higher returns and profits to stay with the fishermen.

Already this is reaping rewards. In 2005, just two stocks were being fished at a sustainable level, now this is the case for already 27 stocks. This early success story has in 2012 led to increases in fishing opportunities representing an additional 135 million euro income for fishermen.  Progress is really possible, it needs political will to make it happen.

Substantial further progress is still needed towards economically viable fisheries. For example for the Mediterranean and Black Sea, more determination is needed both at EU level and in coordination with non-EU countries as most stocks are shared. According to the latest science, more than 90% of assessed stocks in those seas are in a poor state and overfished.  The EU has been pushing to improve the scientific knowledge and management and there is indeed progress in the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean. Non-EU countries are now also more active and constructively participating.

The second pillar of the reform is eliminating discards.

As of now, 23% of the fish that is caught is discarded. Throwing fish away is a waste of a scarce and valuable resource. It is not understandable to the average citizen. It casts a negative light on the image of the industry, and interferes with sustainable stock management.

There is growing consensus that anti-discard policy must centre around improved selectivity. The discard ban will be a strong driver in that direction.

We want a landing obligation based on a clear commitment to eliminate discards, with a set of dates for gradual implementation. The fisheries that would have least problems adapting will be first on the list, and the remaining fisheries would have additional time to prepare. We propose starting with pelagic species in 2014 and arriving at Mediterranean demersal stocks in 2016.  

The Council has given its views on our proposal in June, and our anti-discard policy was strongly endorsed, albeit with a slightly longer timeline than the Commission would like.

We have two further priorities. Firstly the governance of our fisheries through regionalisation. We need to move away from Brussels micromanagement. Instead, the European Parliament and the Council should set the general standards and conditions, and make room for the Member States and stakeholders in the different sea basins to adopt the day-to-day measures which we know may differ in respective regions.

Our fourth pillar is to ensure that the fisheries industry becomes more market orientated. We want to encourage higher economic returns from the fish that is caught and farmed. We will encourage strategies based on quality and “value added”. Fishermen can make that move through better organization and better preparation of their marketing role. Producer organisation will have a bigger role.

Accurate and clear information to consumers can also help enhancing competitive advantages of EU production, for example on freshness or its origin. Our proposal therefore includes provisions on labelling of catch areas or country of production along with the date of catch.

Beyond sea fishing, the Commission is keen to promote aquaculture. Half of world fish now comes from aquaculture, and we in Europe import two-thirds of the fish we eat. Europe's own aquaculture production is however stagnating – this makes no sense. We have excellent environmental standards – this is a strong asset to be able to do better. We need to put in place the conditions that will underpin investment in European aquaculture. The Commission will be tabling strategic guidelines to help do this.

Our reform proposals are underpinned with new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF). We aim to support the fishing industry through this transition and help them move to more sustainable patterns of fishing. The money from EU taxpayers should be spent in a rational and targeted way. It should go towards helping fishermen and supporting communities to rise to the challenges of an efficient and profitable industry. The Commission's proposal would produce a good return on investment.

All the reform proposals are now being considered by your Fisheries ministers in the Council and by the European Parliament.

We are making progress in the negotiations, a little slower than we had hoped for. The Council has pronounced itself in June under the Danish Presidency on the main reform proposal, and in October under the Cyprus Presidency on the EMFF proposals. We are happy that most of the main elements of our proposal for the CFP were endorsed, although we do have reservations with the Council’s watering down in some areas. The Council is less ambitious than the Commission about reaching sustainability as soon as possible, and there appears little ambition to effectively tackle the reduction of overcapacity. The Member States also support continuing some of the relatively ineffective past subsidies that the Commission has not included in its own proposal. This dilutes our approach, and will not achieve as much in economic terms.

The European Parliament is in the process of defining its position. We hope that Parliament adopts its formal position early next year, so that during the next Irish Presidency of the Council we can make sufficient progress to finalize negotiations mid-2013. Any further delays may jeopardize the implementation.

This reform package is the basic framework for other actions to be developed in the future. These include the national programmes for the EMFF, the regional discard plans and the strengthening of the role of the stakeholder bodies.

Finally, allow me to make some comments on your role and how we need your help. Firstly, I hope you agree that we need to keep the momentum for these reforms, and that we need reform as soon as possible. You can help by staying alert to ongoing negotiations, and keeping the process moving. There is too much at stake to suffer further delays.

You are aware of how the changes we need and propose in their totality will help bring about sustainability and greater economic prosperity for the industry and for fishing communities. This is about a simpler, greener and more region-specific common fisheries policy that produces the best results for everyone concerned with fishing.

In your interactions with your respective ministers you have an important role in underlining the principles behind this reform and making sure that the main elements that constitute the reform package stay alive throughout negotiations. In the same token, I am sure that in your contacts with your colleagues in the European Parliament you can play a vital role in conveying similar messages.

The Commission counts on you to be active supporters of reform that will be good for the stocks, good for the industry, good for fishing communities and good for Europe.

We will keep listening to your input over the next few months. The role of the national Parliaments is a vital part of the process.

Thank you.