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Integrated policy vital for sustainable marine-based sector

EU - Global aquaculture is booming - a result of a strong seafood market, advanced public research and suitable climatic conditions, says EU Commissioner Joe Borg. However, the industry is only a part of a diverse maritime sector that warrants environmental protection and global to promote sustainability at all levels.

Commissioner Borg says an integrated Maritime Policy is vital for Europe

Speaking at the Shanghai Fishery University last week, Dr Borg said that aquaculture faced a number of challenges, such as limitations of space, environmental impacts and the difficulty of remaining competitive.

"We are therefore currently preparing the ground for a thorough discussion," he said, "involving all stakeholders, on the further development of European aquaculture. It is essential that this development is sustainable, so that the gains from technological development are not offset by environmental degradation.

"I believe that this is a field where the EU and China stand to benefit enormously from co-operation and it is one where I encourage us to work closely together."

He told delegates that aquaculture was both important to China, as well as the EU.

Mr Borg also underlined the plans for a maritime policy for the Union. "This is a new field for the EU; one that we hope will be instrumental in bringing together, in an integrated manner, all policies affecting maritime activities," he said.

He said that although the terrestrial space of the planet has a priority, the oceans and seas were gaining a stronger focus. There was a definite opinion that nations have a joint responsibility to protect them.

The United Nations' Convention on the Law of the Sea was the first tangible acknowledgement of this and it has triggered interest in developing integrated marine policies in a number of countries including Canada, the US, Japan, Portugal and Australia. And, China already has a National Oceans Administration that ensures the co-ordination of maritime policies.

EU champions integrated approach

The European Union has developed its own framework - the new Integrated Maritime Policy adopted last month by the European Commission. The motive mirrors what is happening at a global level and aims to protect Europe’s vitally important maritime sector.

"Many of the challenges we face are also in some way or another linked to the oceans and seas. A comprehensive and all-embracing approach has become increasingly necessary as it is clear that this is the only way to effectively deal with the new realities faced by Europe, said Commissioner Borg.

Europe's maritime sector is vast.
  • The coastline is 70,000 kilometre's long which is four times longer than that of the Russia Federation, and seven times that of the United States.
  • Europeans own 40 per cent of the world's container shipping fleet and 90 per cent of our external trade passes through our 1,200 seaports.
  • Maritime activities contribute between three and five per cent to Europe's GDP. And that does not include the value of raw materials such as oil or fisheries or the revenue generated from maritime and coastal tourism.
  • Maritime activities, including maritime and coastal tourism, provide some five million jobs
Fish and resources substantial
Fish forms a substantial proportion of our diet with 23kg of fish consumed on average per capita. Around 40 per cent of the oil and 60 per cent of the gas consumed in Europe is drilled offshore. Over 50 per cent of Europe’s population lives within a 50 kilometre radius of the coast and a substantial proportion of our GDP stems from coastal tourism, which annually turns over 72 billion euros. Combined with the fact that a sizeable 60 per cent of European citizens choose seaside holidays annually, Europe has the largest maritime and coastal tourism industry in the world.

However, Europe faces many environmental challenges, such as global warming and the effects of climate change. Coastal areas are threatened by rising temperatures and coastal erosion, more frequent and fiercer storms and other climate related phenomena.

Finding new and renewable sources of energy and the swift response to competition from across the globe are key areas that EU policy-makers must also address, said Dr Borg.

Europe is experiencing rapid growth in a number of sectors including maritime transport, where cruise shipping is growing at 11 per cent per annum and container movement is likely to treble by 2020. Tourism, wind power, and shipbuilding are also expanding and creating pressure on the marine environment.

"While such growth and development is welcome, it also means our coastlines are increasingly under pressure. They are becoming more and more congested with activities vying with one another for space. And, more importantly, it also means that the marine environment is increasingly experiencing severe degradation," said Dr Borg.

Adding value;preserving culture

He said a primary objective was to ensure that new policies add value to what already exists. Integration of key elements within the maritime sector was vital for policy to be workable, protect the environment and the livelihoods of those involved.

A Task Force of Commissioners is already set up to stimulate the development of ideas, bring together the relevant services in charge of the various sectors and to ensure that coherence is already achieved at this early stage. This Task Force, and the Inter-services working group to which it gave rise, have been instrumental in ensuring that our work is both cross-cutting and far-reaching.
An action plan that was adopted last month, includes a list of thirty actions of which four have already seen the first steps taken.

Dr Borg said that by bringing various facets of Europe's maritime dimension together, the Integrated Maritime Policy was striving toward Europe’s primary goals of securing growth and jobs in a sustainable and effective way.

"Although the challenges are great, we do have the necessary tools and implements at our disposal to reverse the degradation that has been experienced by the marine environment, to date. We must ensure that the economy and ecology do not work against each other but move in the same direction. There will be huge opportunities in doing this," he added.

A Europe-wide Integrated Maritime Policy would integral in reforming the sector, but the Commission will not always necessarily be in the driving-seat. Member states, regional governments and a wide variety of interested parties will also play an active role in devising their own national maritime policies in order to make sure these are tailor-made to their specific needs.

"We must have active participation from all our partners as there is clearly no one-size-fits-all solution," Dr Borg explained.

Key tools

Spatial Planning is a key tool that the Commission aims to encourage. Such procedures should ensure that the development of coastal/offshore economic activities while respecting the topography and current interests of the local environment. The European Union hopes this kind of planning can be applied along converging lines, all across the EU, where for the moment it is only applied in some places and not in others. China is also promoting such policies.

Dr Borg also called for more marine research as knowledge was vital to the development of maritime activities. "Without data, crucial research cannot be carried out. Currently, the systems that collect and process data in the European Union are limited either in capacity or in time and are often not mutually reinforcing. We are proposing the development of a network - a Marine Observation and Data Network - to support the development of knowledge and research. Far from being an end in itself, this will also serve as a useful basis for decision-making," he added.

Dr Borg said that the consultation process had raised a high level of awareness among European citizens of the need to take better care of our oceans and as a result many stakeholders were requesting direct involvement in the development, running and implementation of the policy. "There are already many activities taking place and many are ready to bring all these activities together under a common umbrella, which will make Europe's Integrated Maritime Policy a living and evolving mechanism," he added.

Specific examples that warrant international co-operation include fisheries where control and enforcement is a priority of EU work. "If we want to achieve long-term sustainability, responsible fishing must be rewarded, while illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, so-called IUU fishing, must be firmly combatted, both in EU waters and beyond," he said.

A policy against illegal fishing can only be efficient if it is based on a comprehensive approach that encompasses all activities linked to such practices: including harvesting, trans-shipment, processing, landing and trading. And, the Commission has issued a package of new measures aimed at eliminating illegal fishing activities by attacking the main incentive behind them: short-term profit.

"Our idea is to allow access to the EU market only to fisheries products that have been certified as legal by the concerned flag state or exporting state," explained Dr Borg.

The Commission proposes to strengthen EU efforts in the international arena and co-operation with international partners, such as China, is a key element to increasing sustainability.

Another important issue with regard to international fisheries is the implementation of the Resolution on Destructive Fishing Practices adopted by the United Nations General Assembly at the end of last year. The EU played a leading role in promoting this Resolution and is fully committed to translate it into concrete and effective action.

Click here to read Commissioner Borg's full address

the Fish Site Editor

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