Croatia prepares for Europe

Tied up: Croatia's fishing fleet will have to make significant changes to its fleet and equipment to comply with EU laws Tied up: Croatia's fishing fleet will have to make significant changes to its fleet and equipment to comply with EU laws

Croatia’s accession to the EU means the country will have to face fresh challenges in its fishing sector. Adrian Tatum reports.

With its large coastline and its innumerable islands, Croatia inevitably has a significant fishing industry. With an artisanship fleet that stills remains at the forefront of life in the country, the opening of the markets paved the way by accession to the EU will of course create new opportunities for Croatian producers.

Fishing is an important contributor to the country’s economy and represents a large proportion of the country’s exports. According to the EU, in 2011 alone, 38,493 tons of fish worth almost €140m were exported, with the most important species including bluefin tuna, salted and fresh anchovies, sardines, and farmed fresh sea bass.

Croatia imports large quantities of relatively inexpensive products such as herring but mainly exports high-value species resulting in a positive financial foreign trade balance in the sector. There are around 14,000 people directly employed across the sector with another 10,000 in some way indirectly involved in fisheries. Beyond the traditional fishing sector there is also a modern and developed part of the industry focusing on farming, caging or aquaculture.

"By joining the EU, Croatia opens new opportunities. We must prepare together to seize those opportunities and resolve some problems," says Croatia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Neven Mimica.

And the Croatian fishing sector can develop further. The accession to the European Union on 1 July, coming just a few months before the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy reform, is a perfect moment for fisheries in Croatia, opening a number of opportunities from which to help secure a sustainable future for fish, fishermen and the wider economy.

To be competitive, modern fishing fleets need to be economically robust and able to react to changes in demand. The adaptation of the Croatian fleet will be one of the priorities under the European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which is currently under negotiation. Adjusting the fleet size to available resources, adapting gears on the fishing boats and using EU science and research expertise to have a clearer understanding of stocks will help the sector to become sustainable.

Tourism is another sector in which Croatia has experienced growing success with the industry now representing a significant economic activity for the country. However, it is by nature a seasonal activity which creates employment and income only during certain parts of the year. In order for coastal communities to have a sustainable and prosperous future, seasonality needs to be tackled. The fisheries sector, through aquaculture and mariculture, offers high-value added services which create year round opportunities for employment and economic stability. These sectors are already developed but further investment from EU instruments will allow a diversification of the offer, a chance to modernise the industry, and the ability to use the latest technologies.

According to the EU, however, sustainability does not simply equate to sound economics. It is also about making sure that all countries fish responsibly and to levels which are sustainable for the future of fish stocks. The issue of control is therefore crucial. Croatia is a long standing member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and represents a key player in the bluefin tuna fishery in the Mediterranean. The EU itself is already committed to full compliance with all ICCAT conservation and Croatia will play a key role in achieving this. Croatia will continue to benefit from training courses delivered in cooperation with experts of the European Fisheries Control Agency. Exchanges with other Member States’ inspectors will also be organised and it will benefit from the scientific expertise made available through the European Commission to ensure that stocks are managed at sustainable levels.

"Good governance of the sea and its resources is crucial to ensuring sustainability given the importance of a healthy ecosystem for fisheries. This is enshrined in the system of rights and obligations as defined in the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) framework. This is also why Croatia has always been very active under both the General Fisheries Committee for the Mediterranean (GFCM) and the Barcelona Convention, and will undoubtedly continue to play an important role in these as a EU Member State. Close cooperation with neighbouring countries will continue to allow for a peaceful, cooperative and sustainable exploitation of resources and prevent negative impacts on the marine environment," says the EU.

"The real value of the Union is the joint management of natural resources that do not respect borders, and the sharing of best practices and expertise for the benefit of each Member State. Whether it is through joint projects with other Member States to further develop freshwater fisheries or the sharing of knowledge on the whole fishing process or administrative side of fisheries, Croatia and its fishermen stand to benefit from accession in the short, medium and long term," Maria Damanaki, EU Fisheries Commissioner tells World Fishing & Aquaculture.

"As with all new relationships there are likely to be ups and downs and the need to compromise in certain areas but it is clear that Croatia’s long tradition of fishing will only continue and grow. The three keywords for the fisheries sector of the 28th Member State of the European Union? Opportunities, challenges and co-operation."

But Croatian fishermen will have to face dramatic changes to the way they work. They will lose subsidies, have to change their nets and other equipment to meet EU specifications and, on top of that, the EU entry will open the eastern Adriatic to any fishing vessel from the EU. Most concerns are about the vastly superior fleet from Italy, whose boats often poached in Croatian waters in the past, where there any three-four times more fish compared to waters near Italy.


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