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New Developments in Aquaculture Vital for Industry, says Borg

by 5m Editor
8 December 2006, at 12:00am

EU - In his speech at the Plenary meeting of the Advisory Committee on Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg discusses the new trends and recent developments that will be important to the Aquaculture industry over the next few years.

First of all I would like to thank you for the invitation to address the Members of this Advisory Committee with the aim of giving an overview of topical issues in the fisheries and aquaculture fields. I will be happy to answer questions at the end of my intervention and listen to your views on the various topics currently on the fisheries agenda.

Let me start by commenting on the outcome of the latest Council meeting on 20 and 21 November. As you are aware the Council succeeded in adopting three major Commission proposals which have an important bearing on the sustainability of European Fisheries.Firstly, the adoption of the Regulation on Mediterranean fisheries will strengthen the protection of fish stocks and marine eco-systems by way of a management framework that is adapted to the specific conditions of fisheries in the different parts of the Mediterranean. This proposal has been discussed for a long time and I think that we finally achieved a sound balance between common measures and their necessary adaptations to regional and local specificities of the various fisheries.

Secondly, the new Regulation on electronic logbooks and remote sensing of vessels will play a very important role in tackling illegal fishing and, as a consequence, make a significant contribution to achieving sustainable fisheries.

The third proposal adopted concerns the Regulation on TACs and quotas for deep-sea species for 2007 and 2008. Here a balance was struck between the need to protect deep-sea species which are particularly sensitive to fishing pressure and for which scientists recommended important catch reductions, while at the same time taking into account the socio-economic situation of the fleets concerned. This was done by adopting a gradual approach whereby there will be catch reductions of between 15 and 25% for the coming years.

Apart from these important decisions, the Council in November also discussed the Commission's Communication on the Maximum Sustainable Yield, and considered a report on simplification and better regulation. I am fully aware that your Committee has worked hard on both of these issues and I would like to thank you for your input during the preparatory phases and for your opinion on the Communication adopted today in this plenary.

Now I would like to say a few words on the upcoming Council meeting on 19 21 December which will be dealing with the Commission proposal on TACs and quotas for 2007. As you are aware, this year the so-called front-loading of the decisions on TACs and quotas has taken another step forward by dividing the TAC and quota proposal into three sections: Baltic TACs and deep-sea TACs that have already been agreed in the October and November Councils, and the general TACs proposed which now remains for December. In addition, for the first time, we presented a Policy Statement laying down the principles and criteria the Commission would intend to use in the preparation of the TAC and quota proposal. This has allowed a discussion on TACs and quotas even before the scientific advice becomes available, and here again I am very grateful for your opinion, which will also be adopted – or has been adopted – today, in this plenary.

As ever, the starting point for our proposal is the scientific advice provided by STECF, taking account of a report by ICES. In this respect, I want to underline that the list of stocks for which STECF is recommending either a closure of the fishery or severe restrictions in catches is on the rise. Despite some successes, to which I shall refer later, the general picture on stock status remains rather critical highlighting the need to take serious measures to ensure that we can achieve the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy: that is, to have fish stocks exploited in a sustainable manner.

I wish to stress, however, that our proposal is not a direct translation of the scientific advice. The Commission has applied the principles and guidelines of the "Policy Statement" in developing specific proposals for TACs and effort levels. In many cases, this has led to proposing reductions of catch possibilities that are lower than those recommended by scientists. We are doing so in an effort to reconcile the biological urgency with the socio-economic realities of the sector.

We will seek to obtain a scientific evaluation of the long-term effects of establishing fishing opportunities in line with the "Policy Statement" approach next year, and if needed we will adapt the methodology accordingly.

I will now present some of the most relevant issues related to this proposal:

Firstly, as in previous years, the recovery of cod continues to be a fundamental problem. The scientific advice is still very negative, and further cuts in fishing for cod are necessary. We have the additional bad news that the Celtic Sea cod is now also in the list of cod stocks for which a zero TAC is recommended. Therefore, further measures to ensure the recovery of the cod stocks in Community waters will be necessary, which is why we propose a 25% reduction for cod stocks outside the North Sea.

It is our intention to launch a proposal for the review of the cod recovery measures early next year, with the active participation of stakeholders. The objective will be to find new ways to recover the cod stocks that have been in a bad shape for a number of years. We hope that this will lead to targeted and focussed action that can assist us in achieving a recovery of the stock while at the same time allowing some reasonable fishing activity for other stocks that are in a much better conservation status, but are linked to cod.

For other important stocks, such as anchovy, we unfortunately continue to be faced with bad news, where scientists are recommending a closure of the fishery until the stock is re-evaluated in the spring of 2007.

The picture however is not completely bleak. Fortunately there is also some good news. For northern hake, we are reaching the objective of the recovery plan, thus allowing an increase in the TAC. Similarly, the operation of a management plan for sole in the Bay of Biscay will also allow an increase in next year's TAC corresponding to the gradual reduction of fishing mortality. These two examples illustrate clearly that, when we embark on long-term approaches on stock management, the gradual adjustment of fishing mortality does not necessarily result in TAC decreases – in other words, when the stock size increases, more catches can be taken from the stock with a lower effort.

It is also important to underline that the number of stocks where we have multi-annual plans is increasing: in addition to cod, northern and southern hake, Iberian Nephrops and Bay of Biscay sole, we are trying to secure the adoption in Council of two new long-term plans: one on sole in the Western Channel and another on sole and plaice in the North Sea. This means that there is a growing number of stocks in which the annual TAC and quota exercise is based on a multi-annual plan.

The TAC and Quota proposal also includes a number of conservation measures agreed by the Commission in the context of Regional Fishery organisations.

Let me now briefly mention three events in the international fisheries context which are of particular importance for European fisheries.

Firstly, the preparatory meeting in New York for the UN General Assembly, which achieved a consensus on a draft Resolution on tackling destructive fishing practices. I am pleased that the EU's approach, focusing on the precautionary principle and on introducing measures that are both effective and realistic, proved to be successful and I am confident that the General Assembly will adopt the draft Resolution when they meet later on today.

Secondly, the recent ICCAT plenary meeting in Dubrovnik which agreed on a long-term management plan for bluefin tuna. The agreed package will admittedly lead to a number of short-term costs and sacrifices for the fleets involved. However, I strongly believe that they are necessary to avoid the risk of stock collapse and to secure the long term future of the fishermen concerned. The 15-year plan adopted by ICCAT will introduce a broad range of measures, such as reduced catch possibilities, closed seasons, capacity monitoring, increased landing sizes and substantially reinforced control and inspections.

Thirdly, the annual consultations with Norway which were successfully concluded last week. We have agreed, among other things, on reductions in the TAC for cod in the North Sea and the Skagerrak of 14%, a reduction of 12.5% for North Sea plaice, and small increases in the TACs for haddock and for plaice in the Kattegat. The TACs for whiting, saithe, and sprat in the Kattegat remain unchanged. The TACs for herring will be reduced by 25% in the North Sea, and by 15% in the Skagerrak and Kattegat. We have agreed further cooperation with Norway concerning technical measures and in-year management of sandeel fisheries.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would now like to give you an overview of the priorities for next year and start off with two areas to which your Committee is devoting a lot of time and energy: markets and aquaculture.

As regards markets, you are aware that we are in the middle of the evaluation process of the current framework including an impact assessment study. This work will continue throughout 2007. I hope that we will be in a position to present a proposal on the future of the Common Market Organisation in 2008.

On aquaculture, we are well advanced on the road to having Community rules for alien species in aquaculture. This was one of the items highlighted in the 2002 Communication on sustainable development of aquaculture and is currently under discussion at working party level in the Council. If not finalised this year we expect it to be approved during the German Presidency. Aquaculture products and seaweeds are also included in the new Community rules on organic production and labelling and while we expect this Council Regulation to be finalised before the end of the month (to apply from 2009), DG FISH will start work on detailed implementing rules for aquaculture products and seaweeds next year.

In addition, our proposed directive on animal health requirements for aquaculture and prevention and control of certain diseases was adopted by the Council in October. This new directive updates, recasts and consolidates three former directives in relation to the trade in aquaculture products, including disease prevention and control, in order to improve the competitiveness of EU aquaculture producers. It will better reflect the EU aquaculture industry in the 21st century, simplify and modernise existing rules to provide more flexibility, and delegate more operational responsibility to Member States. It will eventually ensure both a better protection of consumers and a better environment for the producers.

But work does not stop here. 2007 will be an important year for aquaculture.

First it will be the year when we will review the Community strategy on the sustainable development of aquaculture. We have to integrate new trends and recent developments, whether they concern offshore aquaculture or links with other sea-based activities.

This brings me to the second important event for aquaculture in 2007, the elaboration of concrete proposals regarding an EU maritime policy. The aquaculture industry is treated as an equal partner to other maritime activities and it is crucial that the aquaculture industry submits a strong contribution to the Green Paper on the EU Maritime Policy.

Finally 2007 will be the year when the European Fisheries Fund and the 7th Research Framework Programme will start. These two programmes are instrumental for the sustainable development of aquaculture and we must work together to make the best use of them.

Ladies and Gentlemen

In the catching sector, we will issue a Communication to launch a debate on measures aiming at the progressive elimination of discards in European fisheries. I think that it is time for a frank and open discussion on how to deal effectively with this problem.

The fight against IUU fishing will be a priority for the Commission in 2007. The Community is already leading efforts at international level to address those practices. Thanks to its action, important progress has been achieved, notably within Regional Fisheries Organisations. Still, much needs to be done. The Commission intends therefore to propose the adoption of a package in July 2007, comprising a Communication and a proposal for a Council Regulation. The measures which should be part of this package will primarily aim at, deterring Community vessels and nationals from being involved in IUU fishing, preventing IUU fishing products from entering the Community market and developing means and measures at international level to intensify the fight against IUU fishing outside EU waters.

Stakeholders will be consulted during the preparatory phase of this package, early 2007. ACFA in particular will be associated to the work of the Commission, with a view to contributing to the elaboration of the future proposals.

Another priority related to the CFP is the strengthening of stakeholders' involvement in our policy. As regards the Regional Advisory Councils, we have presented recently a proposal to strengthen their effectiveness and simplify their financial management. In 2007, we will also proceed to the first review of their functioning three years after the adoption of the relevant legal framework.

I am aware that you are also involved in an exercise aiming at the evaluation of the effectiveness of the work of ACFA. My services will launch a study early next year on the global evaluation of ACFA and the relevant Community instruments put in place to support its mission. This will be the first global evaluation exercise since the reform of ACFA in 1999.

We will of course continue next year with our core-business tasks which include, as you well know, the elaboration of conservation measures, the negotiation of fisheries agreements, the representation of the Community in regional and international organisations, the implementation of the European Fisheries Fund and control and enforcement of the CFP.

One final word about maritime policy: As you may be aware we will be coming forward at the end of next year with a Communication on the outcome of the consultation on our Green Paper including a plan of action and proposals for actions that can be implemented in the short-term. ACFA too has a role to play in this process and we appreciate the contributions that have been submitted by the different members of ACFA which show a favourable disposition to this matter.

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