Moving in the right direction

09 Sep 2015
Javier Garat

Javier Garat

In an exclusive interview with Jason Holland for World Fishing & Aquaculture, Javier Garat, president of Europêche, secretary general of the Spanish Fishing Confederation (CEPESCA) and chairman of the European Fisheries Technology Platform, highlights the successes achieved by Europe’s fishing industry and explains why it’s important to ensure it has the tools to deliver economic and environmental sustainability.

Common Fisheries Policy

JH: What have been the main successes of the new CFP?
JG: There are several. First of all, the new CFP is not as radical as former Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki wanted. That’s important because we were left with a fairer, more achievable policy. Secondly, allowing a flexible target date for achieving maximum sustainable yields (MSY) is something that is good for everybody. It is important that the MSY concept is implemented in a sensible way, so if it’s possible to implement it for a stock in 2015 then do so, but if it’s not feasible then having the scope to introduce it next year or through to 2020 gives us the margin to do it in the right manner. It allows us to take into account the socio-economic consequences while also balancing environmental sustainability. Thirdly, I think the multi-annual plans are also something positive. We were already working on it before the new CFP and there’s no doubt they will be key tools in the future.

In addition to these, regionalisation will be important and the industry is very much behind the idea of it, but we don’t really know how it’s going to be implemented at this time. The Common Market Organisation Regulation is also good in that it gives Producer Organisations (POs) the tools to better understand the market trends and achieve a fairer price for their products, which is one of our main objectives.

At the same time the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) covers almost everything that we wanted it to. We should be quite happy with it. The only problem here is the member states’ proposals are taking too long to be approved by the EC, and so for the moment we can’t use this money. We have already lost 2014 and half of this year. But I think that if we make good use of this money, it will bring greater sustainability to the European fleet. 

JH: What specific areas require more focus as we progress with the CFP?
JG: We need much greater simplification. The European Commission is always talking about simplifying this and that, and yet we find we still have almost 1,000 pieces of legislation. That is far too much and makes it almost impossible to comply with. In addition to this, the landing obligation needs a lot of work. We don’t like it – it’s too complex and we didn’t like the way it was finally adopted. However, it has been adopted and so we are working on it, trying to ensure that it is implemented in the right way, taking into account that we have to try and reduce the impact on our fleet wherever possible. Then we also need some progress with the technical measures. Currently, the Commission is making proposals for new technical measures following the regionalisation process. It has started with the Baltic Sea and then we will have to go through all the areas like the Mediterranean or the Atlantic north-western and south-western waters. This is going to be very important because these are the rules that we will have to comply with for our nets and gears.  

JH: MSY for all European stocks is a key aim of the CFP and scientific data is key to setting accurate catch quotas. How many EU fisheries are currently data-deficient and what needs to be done to address this challenge?
JG: According to the last ICES and European Commission report on the state of the stocks, full data is not available for 48% of European fish stocks. That means we have improved in the last few years because in 2012 it was 54%. Of course it’s still a problem for the industry. However, the ICES scientists recently told us that they actually have a lot of data, the problem they have is they don’t have enough resources to process it. It is clear that in the future, member states and the Commission will need to allocate more resources to scientists. In the EMFF, there is €20 million for data collection. We need to ensure the research institutes within each member state have enough resources to not only obtain the data but also to process it. In the last few years, I believe the collaboration between science and the industry has improved a lot and that’s one of the reasons why we have more data now. 

Landing obligation

JH: The landing obligation will be extended to demersal fisheries in 2016 and be fully implemented across all quota species by 2019, but many fishermen remain in the dark about whether they can be properly implemented. What needs to be done to alleviate these concerns?
JG: Because there is so much uncertainty, this is not an easy question to answer. There are several aspects that we need to take into account. Firstly, all the legislators and policymakers need to incorporate the industry perspective when they decide on the discard plans. They are working on them and we have some information through the advisory councils and member states, but I think we should be fully involved in this process because we are ultimately the ones that are going to implement them. Secondly, and this was a message that we recently passed to Commissioner Vella, we need to use all the exemptions and flexibility tools that are in the regulation in Article 15. We know that some NGOs are saying there should be no exemption from the landing obligation so as an industry we need to use as much as possible to implement it. Next, the Council of Ministers needs to adapt the TACs and quotas for that and we will have a good opportunity to do that in December when the member states decide on the quotas for next year. How will we adapt the quotas for the landing obligation? They have promised larger quotas because it is clear that we are going to have to land those species that we were discarding before; for that we need quotas.

Also, we need a flexible system to swap quotas between companies and member states. For example, in the case of monkfish in Areas VI and VII, there are countries with not enough quotas like Spain and there are other countries that are not fishing all their quotas and at the end of the year there is around 14,000 tonnes of monkfish that has not been fished and has been left in the water. That means that around 30% of the TAC is not used, which is a pity. Now that we have this landing obligation and we are going to have more difficulties, it’s very important that member states and companies can trade quota and try to improve the management. 

Sustainability

JH: Aside from the landing obligation, what other measures can contribute to achieving a more sustainable EU seafood industry?
JG: Without any landing obligation rules, we have shown that we can be sustainable and economically viable. According to the latest figures from ICES, the situation has improved a lot. We have hugely reduced our mortality rates; we have increased the biomass of a lot of stocks, particularly in the northeast Atlantic; and our companies and fishermen are more profitable than before. We have to continue in this way.

If we look back over the past few years and despite many campaigns against the fishing sector that have told consumers that we are bad for the oceans, the reality is that we have made a lot of sacrifices and have adapted our operations to all the regulations and policies that have been thrust upon us and we have achieved some excellent results. Improvements are visible today in many European waters. We do have concerns about the Mediterranean, where the information from the scientific assessments is not so good. We, as fishermen, need to be responsible and make proposals to improve the management in the Mediterranean and do it before the regulators step in and try to impose policies upon us that we won’t like. We are working on that. But in general, things have changed and we are moving in the right direction and that should be widely recognised. 

JH: How will the new multi-annual management plans contribute to greater sustainability?
JG: I think the multi-annual plans will greatly help many stocks to get to MSY. We are sure that if they are correctly established, they will have a very positive effect on the stocks and the fishermen, who have long needed greater legal certainty. What we have with the current quota regulations is that every year the TACs are changed, taking into account the scientific recommendations. There are often mistakes in those recommendations. The good thing with the multi-annual management system is that you decide on your plans and how different stocks should be managed for five or six years. It provides the legal certainty that we are looking for. If we do it in the right way, taking into account the latest scientific data and recommendations with good control systems from member states and with good willingness from the industry, I’m sure these plans will be a success. It’s already been demonstrated with northern hake, North Sea cod, Baltic cod that have been or still are under recovery plans and are now in much better shape than they were.

Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated fishing

JH: How is Europe doing in the war on IUU?
JG: I think that we are going in the right direction. Things have changed a lot in the last few years. New regulations have been implemented and it’s a lot more difficult to bring illegal fish into the European market. Of course, IUU is still happening because those illegal operators are so determined to find a way but it has been reduced considerably.

The EU’s policy of ‘pre-identifying’ and ‘identifying’ non-cooperating countries through the yellow and red cards is a very positive step in the fight against IUU because it gives pre-identified nations that want to export products to the EU time to improve their control and management systems. We have seen some countries pre-identified and then delisted and some others have not but they are working on it. We have always said that we need a level playing field to be competitive in the fisheries world. We know that it is very difficult because the EU has such high standards compared to some of our competitors in third countries, but the Commission’s policy is trying to improve the governance in these countries and to help raise their standards. It will take a few more years to see the true impact of these measures but I believe there have been a lot of improvements made.

While the Commission has identified a lot of non-cooperating countries, we wonder if it would be bold enough to identify a major fisheries player. Moving forward, I think the Commission needs to focus on the big players. The problem with that is as well as having big fisheries, these countries often also have other significant trade interests with the EU. So there’s a big question mark over how far the Commission would be prepared to go with this. 

European Commission relations

JH: As someone who has long been closely involved with EU policymakers, how does the administration of current EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella differ from Maria Damanaki’s term in the role?
JG: The first difference is the attitude. Karmenu Vella is closer to the industry. He meets all stakeholders, has an open-door policy, and when he talks he explains clearly what his approach will be. He talks a lot about sustainability – economic and environmental – whereas Commissioner Damanaki was focused almost entirely on the environment and largely ignored the fishermen and the socio-economic aspects of the industry. At the moment, the relationship is a good one. We have met with him a few times. He also came to our General Assembly, which was pleasing because we need to build the trust between the industry and the Commission. Europêche can play an important role in that.

Commissioner Vella has been in the role for quite a few months now and we recently told him it’s time to turn his words into actions. A lot of the elements to the new CFP are complex, but he needs to physically demonstrate what he’s been saying these past months. He will have a very good opportunity in the next TAC and quota meetings of the Council of Ministers to show he really cares about the fishermen and the socio-economic impacts and has fully taken the landing obligation implementation into account. We are eager to see how he acts. 

JH: Two of Commissioner Vella’s stated aims are achieving blue growth and rebuilding fish stocks. In your opinion, how far can we go with these aims and what are the realistic timescales?
JG: We are on our way. The fishing industry has put a lot of effort in and made a lot of sacrifices and the latest scientific data shows that stocks are rebuilding. In terms of timescale, we have been looking at 2020 and I think the European Commission needs to take that into account when issuing new quotas – do it in a way that minimises the suffering for our fishermen.

With regards to blue growth, the concept is very nice, but what we don’t like is that most of the time, the papers issued by the Commission make no mention of fishing or fishermen. It wants growth in all sectors – mining, energy, transport etc. – but doesn’t talk about fishing. It should be part of the blue growth plans; we are users of the sea and there’s a case for saying we have more rights than all the other sectors because we have been there forever. Commissioner Vella acknowledges that the fishing industry is not the only sector to have an impact on the biodiversity of our fish stocks and this is something that we need to publically stress more often.  

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