WF EXCLUSIVE: Who has the wheel?

08 Jun 2011
The bridge and ship's wheel dominate the entrance to Lowri Evans' maritime and fisheries headquarters in Brussels. Credit: TW : EEC Photos

The bridge and ship's wheel dominate the entrance to Lowri Evans' maritime and fisheries headquarters in Brussels. Credit: TW : EEC Photos

The context

Commissioners may come and Commissioners may go but the engine room of the EU’s DG Mare Pêche (Direction générale des affaires maritimes et de la pêche – DGM&P) keeps running for ever, out of sight of a bridge apparently on auto-pilot. As we went to press, Lowri Evans’s team was beavering away to get Common Fisheries’ Policy (CFP) reform proposals on the table for mid-July.

She took over last summer from Fokion Fotiadis who had to move to DG Development under European Commission (EC) rules stipulating a DG and their Commissioner (Maria Damanaki is from Greece) cannot be the same nationality. DGs also rotate every five years – it helps reduce national politics and increase mobility.

DGs must lead from the front because the EC proposes change and she must do a constant juggling act to balance pressures from the Europarl, national ministers (who make final decisions) and multiple lobbies. DGM&P is the smallest in terms of staff with just under 400. England’s fishery alone has almost as many civil servants. In fact, the Eurocracy only has around 32,000 staff – total, for nearly 500 million EU citizens.

So she is busy, and after several months trying to find time we had to compromise with written answers to WF questions – not WF’s usual, preferred “face-to-face”.

Lowri Evans’s should understand fish farmers and fishermen struggling to make a daily living. Breton fishermen will relish her mother tongue being Welsh, and she proudly says “my daughter Catrin, who is Brussels-born, is Welsh speaking also”. She knows small states with difficult economic conditions and coastal waters have to fight their corner. She grew up on a farm on “The Dragon’s Tail” – the Lleyn Peninsula – in North Wales. From her appropriately named and bilingual school in Pwllheli, “Ysgol Glan y Môr” (“The Seaside School”), it was but a hop, skip and a jump over the Dee and the Mersey to Liverpool University and a degree in chartered accountancy. After five years commercial work she joined the EC in 1983 as an Administrator in DG Financial Control. Where better to learn the realities of the cash bottom line and the cost of fuel?

She should know where the honest and dodgy fit into the global financial system. For six years she was a trust-buster in antitrust and mergers in DG Competition. Then a year in Commissioner Flynn’s Cabinet would not have been short of small fishery issues and Irish Sea cod crises. Six years followed running DG Employment’s social protection, social inclusion, older people policies, employment and social policy planning. There were another 10 years of anti-trust, merger and trade regulation, as she rose to Deputy DG mergers before her present job.

So she understand the worries of people and their families at the frontline and that includes fish farmers for whom real jobs and quality aqua expansion are part of the vision which can be seen here[1], though that is a big story for another time.

How can Lowri Evans and her small staff make policy and present projects a growing reality? The DGM&P’s Integrated Mairitime Policy (IMP)[2] has people at its core but must accommodate all land and sea stakeholders, as well as the future of Arctic waters[3]. Her handling of the Baltic Sea Region Action Plan will be a test for job creation, training new recruits and cleaning up Soviet legacy pollution[4].

Brass tacks

Fuel costs are worrying everyone, including fish farmers on lake or coast. The Europarl easily voted in May to raise the subsidy ceiling by Member States (MS) from €30,000 to €60,000 to individual beneficiaries over three years. But that vote is a proposal.

Lowri Evans said she wants to maintain fuel exemptions already out there for fishermen and agri-farmers, and has put that in the proposed revision of the Energy Taxation Directive. But she adds the EC’s hands could be tied depending on the outcome of World Trade Organization negotiations on subsidies to fishing. She wants MS to tackle the short-term challenges by maximising the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), for “measures that favour a change in fishing techniques which could reduce the need for fuel and measures that add more value to fisheries products thus improving prices”.

Debate should not just be about fuel exemptions. “In order to be sustainable, the fishing sector, like all other sectors, needs to adapt and become more energy efficient to remain profitable.” That will come from increased energy through technological innovation, changed fishing strategies and “… most importantly, more abundant stocks and a fleet that is in balance with the available resources…Long-term sustainability of stocks and sector viability will be a central element of the upcoming [CFP] policy reform.”

On the mixed job creation, especially out of season, WF wanted to know how she would translate that into more local aquaculture, local cooperatives, local decision-making and involving colleges and schools to preserve local fishing communities.

As the “ferch oddiwrth ysgol glan y môr” (the girl from the seaside school) she likes WF’s old idea, linked to local discards, of school children regularly gutting and cooking local fish. Remember, EU funding policy is to prioritise local, small coastal effort.

“Children are born positive and will respond to an enthusiastic and creative approach with new food or food products and its preparation.” Schools should “not shy away” from the issues: “…keep the stocks healthy, and avoid unwanted catches and discarding...Children are Europe's future consumers, so taking them along in thinking (and where possible) acting in favour of sustainable fisheries and getting better acquainted with the fish products is very positive”. CFP reform is “all about making sure that our children will have fish to eat in the future”.

She said the EFF can fund Local Action Groups, in fisheries-dependent communities which can decide themselves the projects to be financed. There are 85 groups set up with 200 expected in 21 MS by end 2011. The allocation is more than €820 million, she added. She has two aims through local private-public partnerships: “How to add more value locally to the products of the fisheries sector, and how to diversify the economy in order to lower the dependency on fisheries. Tourism can play a role…by providing a new market for local fisheries products and by creating new activities and jobs locally”, and she says the same goes for "Pesca-tourism", easily combined with agri-tourism so holidaymakers stay longer and spend more locally.

Are there plans for recreational fishing and its alleged impact on full-time coastal fishermen?

“The simple answer is no”. But she may have the start of a solution when she added. “The Commission has no wish to impose new control or reporting obligations on recreational fishermen.” But she says it can have a significant impact on fish resources and should operate within CFP objectives. MS now have to collect data on it, to evaluate its effect, through sampling (e.g. with questionnaires or phone polls) to “produce independent scientific advice on whether an impact is significant or not. Only if this impact was shown to be significant for the sustainability of the concerned fishery could specific management measures be taken in future”, and there were no “signals” this was needed at the moment, she added.

That takes us back to the scientific stock data for 2012. A DGM&P statement in May confirms WF’s view that scientific data is not up to scratch. “… sufficient scientific data is still missing for the majority of the stocks, mainly due to inadequate reporting by Member States…” and “…scientific advice is missing for about two-thirds of the TACs. In most cases this is because of missing information on catches, incomplete surveys or poor sampling.”…“Providing scientific data on fisheries is a responsibility of Member States, and these responsibilities in some cases are not met fully”.

There is a spiny fish to watch for in the cod-end: “Therefore, in cases where scientific advice is unavailable, a reduction in the TAC and/or in the fishing effort levels should be proposed”. WF suggests fishermen need to gear up their data (use your e-logbooks) so it is solid and quickly available (see p8 Analysis). After all, they have the scientific gold standard of “primary sources”: straight from the “fish-ermen’s mouths”.[5]

Nitty gritty

That takes us nicely to pirates and IUU global crime syndicates which will already be working out how to hide amongst the honest vessels and traders sporting VMS and e-logbooks.

Lowri Evans said “The main economic risk we're tackling is systemic overfishing. And our main thrust is to drive illegal fish and illegal fishers out of the market through new legal powers” under the “IUU Regulation”. “The EU is able to certify the legality of catches exported to the EU, to list vessels or countries that are not respecting the rules, and to investigate and prosecute EU nationals involved in IUU fishing activities, irrespective of how or where carried out”. She says this has brought a sea change in fish trading and “Life is now certainly more difficult for operators trading in illegal fishery products” with illegal fish being blocked in ports and confiscated, so “…it never enters the EU".

“For the vast majority of honest operators the implementation has gone more smoothly than they expected. In fact, several developing countries praise our regulation, as it allows them to introduce new national legislation [to] better control and monitor their own fisheries industry. We are putting a lot of effort into ensuring that implementation is on track – worldwide – and we'll be continuing to do that for years to come.”

She says that while catching poachers of the lucrative eel is for MS to do, under the “Eel Regulation” (affecting countries such as Ireland, Spain and the UK) her team is on the qui vive for prohibited exports from the EU to non-EU countries, in particular glass eel. Shark de-finning, has been “…banned since 2003 for all vessels fishing in EU waters and EU vessels fishing anywhere in the world, without exemption”, and she plans an enforcement amendment for this autumn, she added.

There will also be more fish traceability for consumers in the CFP reform. “… the consumer should be in a position to find out about the place where the fish comes from, and how it was produced.” She hopes fishermen abroad will also take full advantage of existing EU tools such as “Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) which certifies that the product possesses certain qualities, or enjoys a certain reputation, due to its geographical origin. ‘Scottish Salmon’ or ‘Grimsby Traditional Smoked Fish’ are good examples already,” she said.

Third countries

EU funding on solar energy projects, (e.g. in low-lying islands in the Pacific) and mangrove recovery are under Development Commissioner Andris Pielbags (see Analysis WF June 2011) but Lowri Evans says “there might be opportunities to look for synergy [with his team] in relation to third countries, in particular for those with whom we have a fisheries partnership agreement”.

Such agreements are under growing scrutiny by the Europarl (Analysis WF June 2011) including better conditions for sailors onboard who have sometimes been found in almost slavery, press ganged conditions. Lowri Evans says there are certainly issues to be tackled and the EC is committed to addressing trade and social development and core labour standards. This is all part of the “… overall objective of sustainable development, including its social dimension linked to the wider objective of decent work for all”, she said. But she does add that “The Commission remains of the view that the discussion and pursuit of social issues should not be used for protectionist purposes, and it rejects any unilateral sanctions-based approach”.

She is also aware of the large profits which retailers in London, Paris or New York make on the markup of a kilo of Tiger Prawns landed from mangroves or farmed by poor locals. The distribution side, she said “…greatly influence[s] price formation”. But with greater EU consumer interest in ethical issues and sustainability, she suggests producers in third countries might pick up some tips on how EU agriculture producer organisations deal with buyers.

She should be in the DG another four years, so we will see how good she is at helping the industry catch fish and sell tourist sea shells on the seashore.

[1] http://tinyurl.com/3eoyw9r

[2, 3] http://tinyurl.com/3bqf8mp

[4] http://tinyurl.com/kqle3e

[5] http://tinyurl.com/3fp8qna

Lowri Evans’ CV: http://tinyurl.com/6a2pobw

Links to related companies and recent articles ...

European Commission

view more