It is the sea I know best. The meeting place of civilisations, a thrilling physical unit and above all a wonderful human unit. The Mediterranean.
In my capacity as EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, I am now revisiting this beautiful region from a different angle, quite demanding and still rewarding: how to find ways to build a sustainable future for fishermen, their families and their communities.
Blue is the new Green
In the Mediterranean, as in many other regions, one still needs to fight against powerful stereotypes. Old ways of thinking insist that fishing is something totally different from, and even opposed to, the protection of the environment. Taking this to its limits would mean that you can either be a fisherman or a defender of the marine environment – but not both. This is wrong.
Now we know that if we want to have a future for fisheries, we are obliged to protect the marine environment. There is a huge potential for ‘blue growth’ in the domain of fisheries as well as in a whole range of other maritime professions. But these ‘blue’ economic opportunities and initiatives can bring about results only if they are coupled with a high degree of environmental sustainability. Overfishing does not lead to windfall profits, but to the depletion of stocks and the end of fishing activities.
Blue needs Green. Blue should become Green. An important step in the direction of creating a solid framework for sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean is the ‘Mediterranean Regulation’, which as of the 1st of June, is fully in force. It is perhaps not as sustainable as I would have wanted it to be, but it is a very good basis for our future work and I am determined to implement it in a strict manner.
Control is Key
There is absolutely no way we could allow the Med to become a lawless sea region. The fishing grounds of the Mediterranean are not the ‘wild west’. The European Union is getting equipped with the right tools to ensure that everybody complies with the common fisheries policy, throughout the full range of fishing activities, be it catching, processing, distribution or marketing. This includes modern technological means, such as reporting systems and electronic logbooks. Moreover, we have today at our disposal an effective, state-of-the-art legal framework which punishes the illegal behaviour and rewards the honest one.
There are still challenges ahead, but we are on the right track. A lot remains to de be done, for instance, in the field of our cooperation with our non-EU Mediterranean partners. But beyond that, we aim to develop a ‘culture of compliance’ where all parts and actors of the fishing industry accept that the respect of the rules is in their own long term interest. We have the ambition to make this ’soft power’ work.
End of the Campaign
On 10 June, several days before the end of the fishing season allowed by ICCAT rules, I took the decision to close the fishery for bluefin tuna by all EU purse seiners, the industrial fishing vessels. This decision had to be taken so as to avoid any risk of overfishing – there was no other way.
LINKS TO THIS ENTRY
- This post was referred to in guardian.co.uk on Saturday 10 July
Europe’s assault on Western Sahara
The theft of fish from Western Saharan waters should be damned by the European commission, not encouraged
There is one surefire way of allowing the internet to damage your sanity: spend too much time reading politicians’ blogs. Take a recent post from Maria Damanaki, whose career has taken her from agitating against the Greek dictatorship in the 1970s to being the European commissioner for fisheries today. “Blue should become green,” she declared in her blog on EU efforts to lessen the ecological destruction wrought by illegal fishing.
Those efforts might have some credibility if the Brussels bureaucracy was not actively encouraging European vessels to act unlawfully in the waters off Western Sahara.
In 2005, the EU and Morocco signed a lucrative fisheries agreement. Entering into force two years later, its small print stated that European fishermen may operate in Western Sahara, which Morocco has occupied since 1974, provided that their activities benefit the indigenous Sahrawi people.
To date, the European commission has not only failed to produce evidence that the theft of fish from their waters aids the Sahrawis, it has sought to justify that theft on false premises. In a new letter sent to the organisation Western Sahara Resource Watch, the commission selectively quotes a Swedish lawyer’s opinion to contend that economic activities affecting an occupied territory would only be illegal if they disregarded the “needs and interests” of the people under occupation.
This is not the first time that the commission has misrepresented the views of that lawyer, Hans Correll, whose 2002 paper had been prepared for the UN. Speaking at a 2008 conference in Pretoria, Correll said it was “incomprehensible” that EU officials could find anything in his paper that would support their case. Correll then noted that all of the payments made as a result of the fisheries accord would go to Morocco and that the Rabat authorities would explicitly enjoy full discretion over how to use them. He was so incensed about how the agreement did not refer to Morocco’s responsibility to respect the Sahrawis right to self-determination that he said: “As a European, I feel embarrassed. Surely one would expect Europe and the European commission to set an example by applying the highest possible international legal standards in matters of this nature.”
It is instructive that 100 of the 119 European vessels granted access to Western Sahara’s waters through the agreement are registered in Spain, the territory’s former colonial overlord. Spain’s manifest commercial and geostrategic interests in this murky affair undermines the EU’s claims to be neutral in the dispute over the territory’s future. If it was neutral or even-handed, the EU would be heeding a statement issued by the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (officially recognised as the representatives of the Sahrawi people by some 75 countries) in January last year. On that occasion, the SADR asserted its people’s exclusive rights to exploit the natural resources in a 200-nautical-mile zone surrounding the territory.
Those resources do not appear limited to fish. In 2001, Morocco announced that it had handed licenses to the French and American energy firms Total and Kerr-McGee so that they could search for oil off Western Sahara. The companies have subsequently withdrawn from the contracts under pressure from human rights campaigners. But the perception that Western Sahara has rich oil reserves – oil fields have been found in neighbouring Mauritania – helps explain why policymakers in both the EU and US have been so eager to strengthen their relations with Morocco. In April, 54 members of the Senate – a bipartisan majority – put their names to a letter calling on the US to effectively approve Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara.
While this grubby power game continues, the Sahrawis who fled to Algeria in the 1970s have no prospect of returning home. Unicef has described how most of the estimated 150,000 Sahrawi refugees know only the sight of their camps – “vast, flat wastelands with the harshness of one of the hottest deserts in the world”. A scarcity of fresh food there has left one in 10 women suffering from anaemia.
It is not true that these refugees are completely forgotten about. In 2009, the European commission said it was “committed to assisting these vulnerable people until a political solution can be found for their plight”. It released €10m in humanitarian aid but failed to explain that the amount it will be paying Morocco over the four years of the fisheries accord’s duration will exceed €144m.
Isn’t there something rotten about how Europe throws a pittance at the poor, while it empties the seas of their homeland?