Fisheries in Focus in Asia and Europe

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Earth Journalism Network, Washington, DC

With overfishing a major problem around the world, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN) in recent months has carried out a series of activities in both Asia and Europe to work with journalists on improving their coverage of sustainable fisheries issues and ocean health.

In early September, EJN brought eight Chinese journalists to the Seafood Summit in Hong Kong, where they received training from journalists and seafood experts, embarked on an intensive three-day field trip in southern China, and filed stories to their home media organizations.

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Apart from some recent attention on shark fins, oceans and fisheries issue are not a common topic in the Chinese media. Many of the participating journalists had previously had little or no exposure to the subject, but seemed intrigued by the opportunity to cover it more in the future. EJN will continue to monitor their activities in the coming months, and has also commissioned an assessment of Chinese media coverage of fisheries being carried out by researchers from Hong Kong University’s Journalism and Media Studies Center.

Meanwhile, in the European Union, the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has overseen fisheries management across the region since it was first introduced in 1982, and is now undergoing reforms, as it does every 10 years. In 2002, the objectives of the new CFP aimed to ensure "the sustainable development of fishing activities from an environmental, economic and social point of view". But there seems to be a general consensus that it did not achieve its objectives, with three quarters of European stocks being overfished (82% of Mediterranean stocks and 63% of Atlantic stocks).

On 13 July 2011, the European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki, presented reform proposals that would radically change fisheries management in Europe. Some of these proposals are controversial. The reform is currently being debated across Europe and will be voted on in the European Parliament at the beginning of 2013, prior to being submitted to the EU Council of Ministers.

In order to help increase awareness of European fisheries, EJN has organised a series of seminars in various EU countries. Over the last two months,  leading experts from the French and German  fisheries sector, scientific community, NGOs and policymakers came together to discuss the reform proposal before an audience of 20 French, German and other European journalists.

The conferences have already produced a series of stories published by the EFE news agency in Spain and Le Marin, an influential trade publication in France, with more stories expected soon in Germany and elsewhere. Carried out in collaboration with SeaWeb and the EcoLogic Institute, each conference lasted three days and took place in Saint-Raphaël on the Mediterranean coast, and in the Hanseatic City of Lubeck, Germany.

Since the reform proposal was presented on 13 July 2011, discussions have focused on key topics, now often referred to as the "big four":

  • achieving the Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) by 2015;
  • eliminating discards;
  • introducing transferable fishing concessions (TFCs) and
  • regionalisation.

Fishermen, politicians, ecologists and scientists are all keen to see plentiful fisheries resources maintained in Europe. Jobs in the fisheries sector depend on it. But as CFP reform is in its decisive phase, stakeholders are divided over several of these issues. The foremost issue concerns achieving sustainable catch levels or Maximum Sustainable Yield (MSY) for all fisheries stocks.

This was supposed to be achieved by 2015 according to the original reform objectives, but this is not feasible by that date, according to the seafood industry, which is demanding an extended deadline. Meanwhile, NGOs are losing patience: "We have been talking about it for decades, but the objective is constantly being put on hold," Amélie Malafosse from Oceana has said. According to Philippe Cury, Research Manager at the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, IRD (Research Institute for Development), "We are over-optimistic and do not have an accurate method for measuring fishing on a large scale. If we want to ensure the continued existence of fish and fishermen, we need to protect the entire ecosystem. Otherwise, we will have plenty of jellyfish but no fish."

The topics of greatest contention relate to the elimination of discards (fish caught accidentally and often thrown back despite having already been killed) and subsidies. Many NGOs are in favour of "zero discards," as proposed by the European Commissioner, while the industry believes that it will only be feasible to achieve reductions in the discard rate.

On subsidies, Markus Knigge from the Pew Environment Group said, “There is international agreement that the CFP reform should phase out subsidies that contribute to over-fishing. Which subsidies those are is not yet agreed on in Brussels.” However, the most recent decisions handed down by the EU Council of Ministers seemed intent on keeping or re-installing many of the fleet subsidies that have been criticized as counter-productive since they artificially boost fishing capacity even as other measures try to reduce it.

Ernesto Penas Lado, Director for Policy Development and Coordination at the European Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries stressed that "We are simply seeking a pragmatic solution to overcapacity of the European fleet. This overcapacity can be compared to global warming. We all know that the problem exists, but what can we do to resolve it?" Mr Franz Lamplmair, Adviser on Policy Development and Coordination, DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, European Commission added at the German Conference“There is no doubt that there is over capacity in some sections of the European fleet.”

At both conferences NGOs and the industry did sometimes see eye to eye on certain points. Regionalisation, for instance, seems to be accepted as one solution to the issue of how to adjust fishing capacity and catch levels most effectively. The concept seems to have wide backing from the various stakeholders, but there are a number of complex obstacles to its introduction that have, to date, deterred policy makers. According to Mike Park, Chief Executive of the Scottish Whitefish Producers Association"Member states, fishermen from member states and regional advisory committees need to come together and collectively decide on the method to adopt. That is not what is happening at the moment."

The delay of the entire process also drew concern, and speakers felt it was not benefiting anyone, not the politicians, the industry or the NGOs. “We hope a political agreement will be found in 2013.” said Knigge.

Lastly, the consensus among those speaking at both seminars was that, without proper enforcement and effective controls, CFP reform could not succeed.

In France and Germany the New Economics Foundation (NEF) presented their ground-breaking appraisal of the socio-economic costs of over-fishing. "Every year, overfishing costs France over 6,000 jobs", said Rupert Crilly. "In our report, Jobs Lost at Sea, we show that, if France adopts a policy of sustainable fishing practices, it could bring in an additional 224,000 tonnes of fish each year, worth €206 million. In addition, returns from the reconstitution of fish reserves should rapidly exceed the short-term costs, generating a return on investment of 148% within ten years, according to the recent report No Catch Investment." These figures reveal just how important it is to introduce sustainable fishing criteria for all concerned.

Lamplmair commented, “After a year of negotiations and going through complex texts there is good news and bad news on the developments going to the parliament in Brussels. What’s important is continuing to work together to ensure a workable reform is put in place as soon as possible.”