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International Fisheries – with opportunity comes responsibility


Today is European Maritime Day – a celebration of Europe’s rich maritime heritage and a moment to remind us of how Europe’s social and economic well-being depends on the huge range of resources our seas and oceans provide. It is also a reminder that oceans and seas belong to us all and, as such, their protection is our shared responsibility.

The European fishing fleet

The oldest and most universal maritime activity is probably fishing. Europe has a long history in this domain and European-flagged vessels are active in all the world’s oceans today. In fact the amount of seafood harvested by European vessels operating in waters outside Europe stands at almost 500,000 metric tonnes per year. This represents around 10% of all fish landed by European vessels and is mostly consumed in the European Union (EU).

It is these so-called international fisheries, those conducted outside EU waters, which are the focus of this blog.  Such fisheries are governed under bilateral agreements between the EU and the coastal state. There are 19 such agreements in place, mostly with developing countries , those which often lack the necessary infrastructure, equipment and capacity to ensure full monitoring and control of fishing activities in their waters.

Skipjack tuna are unloaded ready to be taken to the market © Wetjens Dimmlich /  WWF-SFI Skipjack tuna are unloaded ready to be taken to the market © Wetjens Dimmlich / WWF-SFI

It is essential therefore that bilateral agreements provide robust safeguards, and are able to reconcile a number of competing demands:

  • First, agreed catch levels or ‘quotas’ must be set according to the best available scientific advice, and in the context of a ‘total allowable catch’ for the country concerned. This is necessary so as not jeopardise the long- term viability of the stocks and to minimise the impact on the wider marine environment;
  • Second, effective monitoring, control and surveillance arrangements must be underpinned through the fisheries agreement in order to ensure satisfactory levels of compliance with conservation and other regulations; and
  • Third, European vessels must not unfairly compete with indigenous fleets, or undermine food security in the region, in view the reliance of coastal communities on fishing for their food and livelihoods.

These are key issues that WWF wants to see addressed in new, or revised fisheries agreements between the EU and developing states. What’s more, we believe that the EU is under a moral and legal obligation to deliver this.

Coastal communities rely coastal on fishing for their food and livelihoods © WWF-UKCoastal communities rely coastal on fishing for their food and livelihoods © WWF-UK

The EU’s new fisheries policy

The social, economic and environmental footprint of the EU confers responsibility on it to take a global lead on sustainable and equitable fisheries governance.  Fortunately, Europe is uniquely placed to meet this challenge. In addition to international obligations and duties under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) (PDF)  and other important international agreements  to which it is a party, EU fisheries are governed by its own principles and commitments under the Lisbon Treaty . Article 6 requires EU legislation to integrate environmental protection throughout policy formulation and implementation so as to promote sustainable development. The EU is also required to take account of the objectives of development in all its policies that can potentially affect developing countries.

These duties have been reflected in the reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) (PDF) effective since 1 January 2014 . For the first time since the inception of the CFP in 1983, measures governing fisheries outside EU waters have become part of the new CFP regulation thus highlighting their importance and impact.

Our work on international fisheries

We’ve worked for many years and all over the world to advocate for sustainable and fair fisheries . We were engaged throughout the recent CFP reform process and worked closely with a range of partners to ensure the translation of international and EU Treaty obligation into effective measures. We welcomed the progress made in the new legislation  but we always said the proof would be in the implementation which is where we are now.  We want to ensure that all provisions are implemented fully and timely so as to deliver legal, sustainable and equitable fisheries.

The European Institutions have a key role to play. I was delighted to speak at a recent event in the European Parliament kindly hosted by Fisheries Committee Chair, M. Alain Cadec. Other speakers included Beatrice Gorez (Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements), Ulrike Rodust (Rapporteur on the CFP reform proposals), Stefaan Depypere (Director, DG MARE), Linnea Engstrom (Fisheries Committee First vice-chair) and Linda McAvan MEP.  It was very pleasing to experience the enthusiasm for this agenda from all present, and we’ll continue work tirelessly to translate this into effective delivery.

For more about this important issue please read our publication: Fair Fisheries Futures (PDF) – Why the EU must lead of sustainable international fisheries.

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