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Fish stock dilemma


Fish stock dilemma


In this edition of I talk EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Maria Damanaki answers your questions.

“Hello I am Chris Burns and welcome to I talk. Some call it strip mining of the seas, over-fishing that is wiping out fish stocks sometimes to the point of near extinction. And what about the safety and quality of the fish we eat.

“Joining us take your questions is Maria Damanaki, the EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Commissioner before we get to that, why don’t I ask you first about your home country Greece. We could devote a whole show to that, but what is your prognosis – positive or negative – of the economic situation?”

Maria Damanaki: “Well we can be slightly optimistic now we have gone through very, very hard years, three or four very, very hard years, cuts on wages, cuts on pensions, 30 percent, almost 30 percent unemployment. This is a really disaster.”

Chris Burns: “Some people say it has been taken to the breaking point socially, but you are still optimistic?”

Maria Damanaki: “I am still optimistic. Why? Because we can see a slight light now at the end of the tunnel. For the first time Greece has a surplus and there are some reforms ongoing and we are expecting some tourists, a lot of tourists actually this summer. So if we are going this way I think that at the end we are going to earn the game, but the difficulties are still there.”

Chris Burns: “Exactly. We still have to keep our fingers crossed. Let’s go quickly to the questions now. This one from a group called ‘Fish Fight’.

“Hi, my name is Mario Picazo. In Fish Fight we are fighting to end fish discards and there are more than 850,000 citizens that support our cause. The last obstacle in Common Fishery Policy reform is the positions of some member states like Spain, France and Ireland. The Commission and the Parliament support us. But the question is: what is going to happen now that the negotiations include fishery ministers? Thank you very much.”

Chris Burns: “OK. Commissioner this is the trialogue now (bringing together small teams of negotiators), this is where more cooks are in the pot, are stirring the pot. What’s going to happen?”

Maria Damanaki: “Well I am optimistic, I have to say that, because…

Chris Burns: “You are not going to water it down?”

Maria Damanaki: “There is a possibility, of course, for watering it down. If we are going through a negotiation, a compromise, perhaps there are some possibilities for watering it down, but I am optimistic because of all these people, because we have heard almost a million of signatures for this. So about discarding, this is a huge problem. Right now 23 percent is the average figure our fisherman are throwing back into the sea. Twenty three percent and in some fisheries it is up to 80 percent. It’s huge so I think everybody now has understood that. And we had a good approach in the Council between the ministers, no exceptions, which is very important, but of course the time-line is still at stake.”

Chris Burns: “OK. Let’s go to a fisherman and see what he has to ask you.”

“ My name is Clipa Petru, I come from Romania, I am a fisherman and I would like to ask a question to Ms Damanaki. Why does Europe allow high levels of fishing when we all know that there are not many fish left?”

Chris Burns: “ Well that’s a good straight question, what do you think?”

Maria Damanaki: “ We are trying; this is the answer but we are not there yet, so what we have to do and this is what our reform is about we have to be sure that what we are going to remove from the sea is a good quantity that can leave our stocks in good health in order to reproduce. This is what we call maximum sustainability. So I can say that if our reform will be in place then we can have a very good prognosis, because after 2022 almost all stocks are going to be fished in a sustainable way and this means that we are going to have almost 30 percent more jobs in the fisheries sector and we can have also 24 percent additional income, 24 percent for our fishermen.”

Chris Burns: “So that’s another danger with overfishing you are making jobs extinct as well?”

Maria Damanaki: “Well yes we have to keep the balance. This is what I am saying about my job. My job is just to keep the balance between the social consequences and what we can do about the stocks.”

Chris Burns: “And balancing all this with the quality of the fish we eat. Here’s the next question on that.”

“My name is Nicolas, I’m French. I would like to ask a question to the Commissioner in charge of maritime affairs. I would like to know what the Commission does to ensure our health when it comes to what’s on our plates, especially fish.”

Chris Burns: “OK. That’s also a concern.”

Maria Damanaki: “Yes, and it’s a very serious concern because we have to depend on our imports. Sixty-three, 64 percent of the fish which ends up on our plates….”

Chris Burns: “And how much of that is checked?”

Maria Damanaki: “Well we have some checks, yes but we cannot check every fish and you can imagine milions of tons of fish come from other regions.”

Chris Burns: “So are you getting tougher on that?”

Maria Damanaki: “Yes we are getting tougher because we really need to control the situation so we have a lot of instruments in our hands now. Legal instruments and also we can go and even stop imports – that is the last punishment – but we can even stop imports from some countries, from some vessels if we are not sure they are fished in a legal way.”

Chris Burns: “ Another related question on quality. This from a group called ‘Slow Food’. Here’s what they say.”

“My name is Michèle Desmains, I coordinate the Slow Fish Campaign for Slow Food. On behalf of our network, I would like to ask Commissioner Damanaki: how can we use our oceans better while preserving their integrity; if we continue to manage fisheries with a stock by stock approach when interaction among the whole trophic chain (The trophic level of an organism is the position it occupies in a food chain). The environment is so much more complex and promoting aquaculture is a little bit like wanting to take care of the forest by putting farms in it. “

Chris Burns: “Well that’s an interesting analogy what do you think about that?”

Maria Damanaki: “They know the game. So labelling is my first answer, we need labelling, good labelling and that’s why I have a proposal which is still on the table. Unfortunately the Council has not agreed and the parliament is rather reluctant, but I hope I am going to get it though. So my idea is that every fish, every fish at every supermarket throughout Europe will have a label saying if it is fresh or defrosted and when it was fished. And then we also need to take care of aquaculture, because aquaculture can be an alternative to overfishing since we cannot ….”

Chris Burns: “It has to be done right….”

Maria Damanaki: “Yes it has to be done; so our new financial instrument is going to ring-fence some money especially for aquaculture, aquaculture in the sea but also in fresh water; so all the countries, all the member states – even the landlocked countries – are now interested about having aquaculture projects and trying to produce fish.”

Chris Burns: “OK I am going to try and fit in these last questions if we can. This one from Greenpeace about quotas.”

“Hi, my name is Saskia, I’m from Germany, but I work here in Brussels. The Commission identified excess fishing capacity as a key driver for overfishing in Europe. Now that the Commission’s proposal to cut over-capacity by a quota trading system is off the table, what solutions would you be looking for in the CFP reform to cut over capacity? “

Chris Burns: “How are you going to do that?”

Maria Damanaki: “ I have to be sincere. This will be very difficult. But what we can do is launch this idea of conditionality, referring to the money we are giving to our member states. So we have a fund. It is taxpayers’ money of course, so we have to have some strict rules; saying in a very concrete way the member states cannot get enough money from this pot, if they are not going to reduce over-capacity. “

Chris Burns: “One final question about sustainable fishing, have a look.”

“Hi, I’m Lorena Stoika from Romania, and I want to ask you about sustainable fishing. Why the Europeans allow fishing on a high scale when it is not sustainable and what do you want to do about it, Mrs Damanaki? “

Maria Damanaki: “ What we are going to do is turn up the way we are going to give money. Now we are going to give more money to small scale vessels. We are going to enhance these people, local communities, local fishermen. Also we are going to give them money in order to revitalise local economies, the spouses to cook the fish, to process the fish. This is the only way to try and enhance small scale vessels and local economies – through a positive way – and of course we have to limit a little the way our huge vessels, huge trawlers are fishing.”

Chris Burns: “It is all about balancing all those interests. Thank you very much Commissioner for tackling these questions and I am glad you could join us on I talk.”

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