EU should take lead in aiming to achieve sustainable fishing in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is not an inexhaustible source of fish, all the more so when its stocks are subject to intensive fishing by Southern European, North African and Middle Eastern countries, Maltese EU Commissioner Joe Borg told Kathimerini. Borg was in Greece to attend the annual meeting of the European Federation of Fish Farmers on Hydra. While in Nafplio, he heard the demands of coastal fisherman firsthand, and promised them that coastal fishing would be protected. You refer frequently to the fish industry. But in Greece, we mainly have small-scale coastal fishermen. Is there a future for them or would they do better to give it up? Coastal fishing has and should have a future, both for the fishermen themselves and for the communities that live by the sea. So the legislation should be sensitive to the needs and problems of small fishermen; it should help them and support them. I think we will manage to create a balance between large fishing interests and coastal fishing. Of course, everyone has to abide by the rules so that consumers have fish, on the one hand, and fish stocks are maintained, on the other. In order to tackle the problem of overfishing, we frequently revise European legislation. At present, we are trying to attain the Johannesburg goal (of making fishing sustainable by 2015). I believe that we will succeed, but it won’t be easy. Fishermen in the EU follow certain rules, or at least they are supposed to. But what happens with all the others who fish in the same area? Fishermen from the European Union and from other countries fish the Mediterranean. The problem is the scientific evidence shows that fish stocks have diminished significantly. So further measures must be taken immediately, outside the EU. Someone must take the initiative, take the lead in this endeavor. And that must be none other than the EU. By means of bilateral and multilateral agreements, efforts are being made to persuade the others to take measures. We must use our influence with third countries so as to achieve the common goal of sustainable fishing in the Mediterranean. Learning from mistakes Is sustainable fishing an achievable goal or just a figment of the imagination? If we don’t attain it, we will have serious problems in the future, such as those we have experienced in the past in the North Sea and the Baltic. If we don’t manage our fish stocks properly, future generations of fishermen will suffer. I think we have learned our lesson. From our contacts with fishermen’s associations in member states, I can see that they themselves realize that something must be done, because stocks are diminishing. In the United States, 50 percent of fish products come from fish farms. Will the same thing happen in the EU? In the past 10 years, there has been a significant increase in fish farm products. At the same time, there has been a significant increase in fish consumption. Fish farming has helped take the pressure off fish stocks since the demand has been met to a large extent by its products. Will there be legislation concerning the production of organic fish farm products? It’s something we’re thinking about and we have sent a paper to member states for discussion. We may consider establishing specific conditions for fish farm products. Will the EU fund the same kind of support in the future or will it change direction? You must be referring to the new fund for fishing. We are concentrating on two dimensions. The first is economic support for more vulnerable areas – for example, where coastal fishermen are active – and the second is to provide incentives for young fishermen to enter the trade. I don’t suppose many young people want to become fishermen. The trade is unattractive to young people because it is difficult, tough and risky. So we have to create the right conditions to attract young people. How? By helping coastal fishermen to keep up the trade and pass it on to their children. Or by creating better conditions and greater safety on the larger ships. Was your visit to Greece useful? I met Greek fish farmers and was impressed by the development in that field. I also saw small-scale fishermen and it was helpful to gain information at firsthand and understand what’s going on. Personal contact also helps them understand and adopt certain measures more readily. What was the biggest issue they raised? That there is increasing competition with large fishing boats and it is important to have and to implement specific rules so that they can keep going.