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Slow Fish in Action

EU Fisheries policy and its impact on small-scale fishers

On Saturday May 16, the impact of the European Fisheries Policy on small-scale fishers was discussed in Genoa as part of the event Slow Fish. Chaired by Brian O'Riordan of the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF), the round table provided an opportunity for small-scale fishers to meet the politicians that affect fisheries policy.


Renata Briano, European commission Vice-Chair to the Committee on European Fisheries and Special Rapporteur for the EU on driftnets, opened the discussion insisting, "we must help small-scale fishers to produce a network." She also explained that they should be given support to navigate bureaucracy, but also by means of training.


Franco Biagi, European Commission Directorate General for Maritime Affairs & Fisheries, agreed, but insisted the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) gave small-scale producers the opportunity to collaborate in local level decision-making. This came against the backdrop of a French small-scale fisher in the audience who admitted: "We want to negotiate with Europe because the French government does not represent us." In response Biagi insisted that the CFP, "includes tools that make it easier for fishers to cooperate," and he emphasized the key role of regional level "micromanagement" in giving small-scale fishers a voice.


Jeremy Percy of Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) criticized the CFP and stated a 30% reduction in some fish stocks in recent years in calling for a more holistic approach. But he was hopeful that Article 17, which stipulates the inclusion of social, environmental and economic factors in allocating fishing rights, could benefit small-scale fishers. He did though suggest that unless the EU encouraged member states to implement policies and regulations, large-scale fleets would continue to dominate fishing quotas. He emphasized the potential influence of his organization at a policy level, admitting that, as a result of the emergence of LIFE, for the first time small-scale interests would be represented in Brussels.


Briano, though, insisted that the role of the EU Parliament was vital, and well positioned to submit policy amendment proposals to the EU commission. But Biagi insisted the EU could only do so much, and although provided frameworks, such as the CFP, the onus was on states themselves to implement these policies.


Christian Decugis, President of the group FEP Varois (Fonds Européen pour la Pêche) called for the EU to go further, and suggested that if real change were to occur for small-scale fishers, the recently released FAO guidelines must be integrated into the CFP.


One issue of contention raised was the European Commission ban on driftnets. The President of a fisher-cooperative in Tangier in the audience asked if something could be done about this ban, and he explained that in Morocco the profits of many fishers were in decline, and that some had even changed professions. Decugis agreed that this ban was damaging small-scale fishers, and highlighted the flexibility of the French Prud'homies, who are in favor of regulating rather than banning of practices per se, as a successful alternative. Briano also admitted the potential sustainability of drift nets, and revealed the European Fisheries Committee was discussing an amendment to the ban.


One Mediterranean fisher in the audience feared for the future of the small-scale fishing industry and suggested that, owing to the influence of recreational fishers, small-scale fishers would be wiped out in a decade. Decugis agreed that recreational fishers, with no catch limit and the ability to reach fish in areas of great distance from the coast, were disrupting fish stocks. And although Briano argued that many of her colleagues championed the sustainability of recreational fishing, she did admit that the issue would not be resolved unless data detailing these activities was produced.


Although Percy admitted he was heartened to hear Briano's thoughts, on the reconsideration of the driftnet ban for example, there is clearly a great disconnect between policy and small-scale fishers, and as they account for 80% of European fleets, this is of grave concern. Key questions remained unanswered, the most pressing perhaps the viability of urging member states to enact EU frameworks. Policies such as CFP are vital, but as Briano identified, contextual exceptions should be in place to account for local needs.


The role of data collection was highlighted as key, as it ultimately influences policy, and crucially, without it discussions about recreational fishing, for instance, will remain fruitless. This, coupled with a greater collective voice at a regional level, could represent the avenues through which small-scale fishers are able to shape the industry, and ultimately, sustain their futures.



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