15 November 2011
IF there is no end to a damaging “vicious circle” hitting fish stocks, there will only be a handful of sustainable species left by 2022, Europe’s fisheries chief warned today.
Speaking at a Relais and Châteaux Conference in Lisbon, EU Fisheries Commisioner Maria Damanaki conceded that over the years the Common Fisheries Policy has become complex, with too much detail decided at central level.
Too much focus is put on short-term economic interests, which too often seem to prevail over environmental considerations, she said.
We hear that fish resources are depleted, she said, that fish contains dangerous pollutants; that it is sometimes sold under false labels.
“We hear that big amounts of fish are thrown overboard because they were caught by mistake.
“So, today there are fewer and fewer fish in the sea. We have fished too much. We have thrown away fish we don't want to land or for which we don't have quotas. And we have used taxpayer's money to build up bigger and bigger vessels. The result is that today seventy-five percent of our stocks are overfished.
“According to our impacts assessment, if we don’t break this vicious circle only eight fish stocks out of 136 will be sustainable by 2022.
“This would be an economic disaster for our fishing industry, particularly small-scale fishermen, who cannot easily move to other waters - just imagine the negative effect for the coastal regions. Also retailers and yourself, those who are there to take the best out of this noble food that is fish, will suffer the consequences.”
We must turn this around and hinge our actions on sustainability – and sustainability only, she went on.
First of all, we have to stop overfishing.
“We have to reach the idea of a sustainable level of exploitation –what we call Maximum Sustainable Yield– of fish stocks by 2015.
“Second, we have to stop throwing away fish that is already killed, quota or no quota. I spoke to some of you and I know your commitment in this particular field. Let me tell you that your work is particularly important: you contribute to raise consumers' awareness and you help fishermen, giving value to fish that they would discard.
“I propose to phase out discards in all fisheries in a step by step approach. We will accompany this with better gear selectivity and with proper support for the industry to implement it. Then we will have to land every fish caught in the nets. If it is undersized fish then it goes into fishmeal production. If it is oversize fish then the fishermen can sell it for human consumption and they will keep the profits from this sale.”
But sustainability does not stop at our own doorstep.
Therefore the proposals for CFP reform do foresee a chapter on our fisheries policy in the world.
“The European Union is going to sign Sustainable Fisheries Agreements with other countries. We will have to make sure that our fishermen behave abroad as they do at home, and that human rights are respected in these agreements.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, you know better than me that fish is universally acclaimed as a healthy component of our diet. We all know it is rich in protein, but it's not just that: its prime value lies in the fact that it contains clusters of brain-specific nutrients, the omega-3 fats, which our body cannot produce, and must get from the diet.
“These fats, DHA and EPA, affect mental health throughout our life cycle. Scientists have connected poor mental development of babies with insufficient supplies of DHA during pregnancy. Later, DHA and EPA influence educational performance, aggressive behaviour, depression, senility and Alzheimer's disease.
“Fish also helps regulate blood pressure, thus reducing the risks of heart attack, and blood sugar, which is good for weight loss and diabetes. It is a source of vitamins and minerals, it helps combat osteoporosis…. Should I go on?
“I think I made my point, but let me add this: fish is also extremely good! And easy to cook, even for those who have not your professionalism.
“So, we should keep consuming fish, and consuming lots of it. As long as it comes from sustainable sources!
“I know that public opinion is in on the reform of the common policy. A recent poll shows that people want the fish in the shops to come from non-overfished sources. Hundreds of thousands have signed a petition against discards.
“It is important to not lose the momentum for change and convince people that they have to choose sustainable fish for the sake of their health, as well as for taking care of both the environment and the future of fisheries altogether. But how can people choose? How do they choose their fish? How do you choose your fish, ladies and gentlemen? Your choice as chefs is key and convincing. You can show people, you can show us all what to choose and that is why today's event here in Portugal is so key for getting it right. If it is true that, as Fernando Pessoa says, ‘Every gesture is a revolutionary act,’ then you are helping us to conduct our revolution towards sustainability. If European citizens are ever more aware of the need to value sustainability, this is also thanks to the way that European chefs work. You can drive the change: eating sustainably means fishing sustainably.”