Mediterranean Fisheries: sustainable fishing practices cannot wait

[tweetmeme Brussels, 8 June 2010. Over 54% of the Mediterranean fish stocks which have been analysed by scientists are found to be overfished. To remedy this situation, the EU adopted, back in 2006, the ‘Mediterranean Regulation’ which aims to improve fisheries management in order to achieve sustainable fisheries, protect the fragile marine environment and restore fish stocks to healthy levels. It applies to EU member states around the Mediterranean. To allow Member States time to get prepared for the implementation of this Regulation, a long transition period of 3 years was agreed for a number of its provisions. As of 1 June, the Regulation is fully in force and must be implemented by the Member States concerned. However, Member States so far have largely failed to take all necessary measures to ensure full implementation and the Commission deeply regrets this. The Commission calls on Member States, to urgently take action, through the application of measures based on science and aiming a high degree of sustainability.

Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki insists that the measures adopted through the Mediterranean Regulation in December 2006 should be fully implemented at this stage: ‘ I will see to it that the Mediterranean Regulation is strictly implemented. The transition period is over. I call on member states to take action now…” she said.

“Member States have had over three years to get ready and comply with the rules. These are the rules that Member States unanimously agreed to through a compromise in 2006, which had amended the more ambitious Commission proposal. It is difficult to accept that Member States are not willing or able today to implement even the 2006 compromise. I am truly disappointed. “, she added.

Furthermore, Commissioner Damanaki said :The state of several fish stocks in the Mediterranean is alarming, and fishermen are catching less every year. We need to reverse the worrying trend of unsustainable fishing practices and impoverishment of marine resources and we need to do it now. But for this to happen, everybody must take their responsibilities and abide by the agreed rules.’

The Mediterranean Regulation1 takes steps towards mainstreaming environmental concerns into fisheries policy and establishing a network of protected areas where fishing activities are restricted to protect nursery areas, spawning grounds and the marine ecosystem. It also sets out technical rules on allowed fishing methods and distance from the coast and provides for protected species and habitats.

The Regulation gives greater possibility for Member States to adapt measures to the precise local situations, but this approach does not work and will fail if member states do not do their homework.

When the Regulation entered into force at the beginning of 2007, it envisaged a long phasing-in period (until 31 May 2010) for some provisions. It would therefore be reasonable to expect national administrations to have had ample time to arrange for the transition and ensure compliance. Yet even now they seem unprepared and the level of compliance with the Regulation appears to be problematic.

Recent inspections by the Commission detected serious violations regarding the minimum mesh size of fishing nets, the minimum size of fish and other marine organisms and other selectivity issues. And this despite the fact that all relevant provisions have been binding since the Regulation came into force 3 years ago. Moreover, Member States have not fulfilled their obligations to submit management plans within the deadlines or designate additional fishing protected areas as required by the Regulation.

It is worth stressing that the Regulation allows a certain number of fishing practices to continue as long as scientific assessments show that the impact on species and habitats is acceptable and they are managed under a national plan.

The European Commission deeply regrets this state of affairs, which is bound to have a direct effect on the state of the stocks and the sustainability of the fisheries. It has strongly urged Member States to act swiftly to rectify the situation and is working closely with them to solve the outstanding problems. In case of serious infringement, however, the Commission will have no choice but to take firm steps to ensure compliance.

Mediterranean fisheries cannot reasonably be managed by the Mediterranean Regulation or by the European Union alone. The involvement of all sea-facing countries is crucial and the EU is very active within multilateral organisations such as the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT), so as to improve scientific knowledge and create above all a level -playing field with the over-arching aim of promoting sustainability.

Questions and Answers on the Mediterranean Fisheries Regulation

What are the specificities of the Mediterranean basin?

In the Mediterranean mainly multi-species and multi-gears fishing activities undertaken by small vessels (mostly below 10 m overall length) and spread over a wide system of landing places take place. For this kind of small vessels the compilation of logbooks is not compulsory.

These characteristics make it impossible to adopt and enforce a reliable management system based on catch limitations (i.e. total allowable catches). Therefore, no catch limits (TACs) are set annually by the EU institutions for Mediterranean fisheries2.

Given the large areas of high seas and no “Community waters” beyond the territorial limit of 12 nautical miles (6 in the case of Greece), international cooperation is essential to develop the joint management of the fisheries and to deliver sustainable exploitation while aiming to create a level-playing field. The EU is active within multilateral organisations such as the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean and ICCAT to improve scientific knowledge and create a level playing field on which to promote sustainability.

Is the state of major Mediterranean stocks and fisheries in good conditions?

The Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries of the Commission (STECF) underlines that more than 54% out of the 46 stocks assessed for fishing pressure are overfished (i.e. they are exploited too young and with too high a fishing effort) and about 28% out of the 42 stocks assessed for stock size are considered at low levels.

Several demersal stocks (i.e. the species living in closer vicinity with the sea bottom, e.g. hake, red mullets, red shrimps, common sole, etc.) are overexploited. Moreover, certain small pelagic stocks (i.e. anchovy and sardine) are also in poor conditions in several areas.

What is the aim of the Mediterranean Regulation and what is its added value?

The Mediterranean Regulation which entered into force on January 2007 replaced the previous “Regulation on technical Measures in the Mediterranean” dating from 19943. It applies to the 7 EU member states bordering the Mediterranean: Spain, France, Italy, Slovenia, Greece, Cyprus and Malta.

The aim of the Regulation is to ensure the sustainable exploitation of resources through an ecosystem approach to fisheries management by implementing certain technical measures (i.e. minimum distances from the coast, minimum mesh sizes, maximum overall dimensions of fishing gears, minimum size of organisms, etc), and to promote a different approach to fisheries management based on a decentralized decision-making process and on setting up multi-annual management plans both at national and community level.

It is not a mere technical measures regulation. It tackles the current fisheries problems in the much wider context of an ecosystem approach to fisheries management, it integrates the environmental dimension, and it spells out the specific role of each actor, in line with good governance principles.

The necessary flexibility to adapt the basic principles to the various local fisheries and situations is ensured by a ‘bottom-up’ integrated approach: unlike the top-down rules applied in other sea basins, Member States are requested to draw up National Management Plans for the fisheries in their territorial waters.

Which Technical measures are foreseen in the Regulation?

Technical measures foreseen in the Mediterranean Regulation touch different issues, including: protection of sensitive habitats, prohibition to use dangerous fishing practices, improvement of the selectivity of trawlers, minimum hook size, limitation of the maximum dimensions of passive fishing gears, limitation of the active fishing gears operations (e.g. trawlers, purse seines, dredges etc.) in coastal areas (distance to coast, depths etc), limitations on the minimum size of fish and other marine organisms which can be caught and prohibition to use professional fishing nets for recreational fishing.

What are National Management Plans?

As a key element of the Regulation, Member States are requested to draw up National Management Plans for the fisheries in their territorial waters.

The management plans shall address fisheries conducted by trawl nets, boat seines, shore seines, surrounding nets and dredges, and they have to fulfil the requirements set out.

National management plans are important to decentralize important issues while keeping common standards for all MS and a way to start implementing a long–term approach to fisheries management in the Mediterranean.

What are the consequences of the failure to adopt National Management Plans?

Failing to adopt an adequate national management plan for a given fishery is first of all a breach of the Regulation. The first set of national management plans for the most important fishing gears had to be adopted by MS by December 2007. Member states submitted plans which either did not fulfil the requirements or were rather late with respect to this first deadline. Other management plans could be submitted at a later stage.

Given how important it is that MS establish national management plans in line with the requirements, talks between the Commission and the MS concerned are underway with a view to overcome the problems encountered so far.

However, should the delays in setting up adequate national plans persist, the Commission will table proposals for Community-level management plans.

1 Council Regulation (EC) 1967/2006 of 21 December 2006

2 Only in the case of bluefin tuna, a TAC is decided annually by ICCAT for the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and this TAC is then allocated amongst ICCAT members (including the European Union).

3 Council Regulation (EC) No 1626/94


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