BRUSSELS - 2011 has indeed been an exciting and challenging year in my area of responsibility: maritime affairs and fisheries. Here are some highlights from the past year and some of the challenges we will have for next year.
Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy
Τhis year I presented the Commission's proposals for a root-and-branch reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. The package of proposals is now in the hands of the European Parliament and the Council for final adoption. This does not mean, however, that my role and that of my staff is played and over. I will be following this process closely over 2012 and will do all I can to facilitate a smooth negotiation and adoption process so that the final agreement can be reached end of 2012.
The ambitious reform plan consists of three pillars; Sustainability, Efficiency and Coherence. Sustainability requires long-term solutions, and our proposals contain a number of elements in this sense. All fish stocks have to be brought to sustainable levels by 2015 through long-term management plans based on the best available scientific advice. The practise of discarding will be phased out. The new policy also:
. introduces individual transferable fishing concessions for trawlers and all vessels more than 12m long,
. supports measures for small-scale fisheries,
. improves data collection and
. promotes sustainable aquaculture in Europe.
In terms of efficiency, the policy creates a new simplified framework for decision-making. Member States will be able to devise their own fisheries management regime according to their own regional specificities and with the help of the industry itself. These regimes will naturally have to tally with the general objectives set at EU level. Finally, Coherence means that all other instruments, from market organisation to financial support, will be aligned to both Sustainability and Efficiency.
At international level, all our actions must match our domestic goals and our environmental commitments while at the same time ensuring a level playing field between our own fishermen and those from other countries which export fish to us.
Consumers are a big part of this reform and our proposals on labelling will assist them in making sustainable choices. In fact in 2011, in parallel with the CFP reform, I also launched a consumer awareness campaign, which your readers can check out at http://chooseyourfish.eu/
To make the new CFP a success story we need more than action at political level. We all need to work together: decision-makers, fishermen, coastal populations, retailers and consumers all have to play ball with us. It is the right thing to do and it is in everybody's interest: only by addressing the challenge of sustainability can we save our seas and give a future to the fishing community.
Control Rules fully operational
In 2011 we also adopted the implementing rules which made the 2010 Control Regulation fully applicable and which guarantee proper control "from the net to the plate". These implementing rules cover all stages of the supply chain and contain concrete mechanisms to ensure a level playing field for fishermen, other operators and the Member States. They also promote new technologies and simplify some previous control and enforcement rules.
Early December, I put forward a new funding mechanism for fisheries and maritime policy for 2014-2020, the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. This new fund, which will replace the current European Fisheries Fund, will finance the transition of EU maritime and fisheries policy towards environmental and economic sustainability and social cohesion by supporting conservation, innovation and smart growth in coastal areas. Our proposal will be discussed with Member states and the European Parliament during next year, and I look forward very much to these discussions.
In the context of our Integrated Maritime Policy work progressed on several fronts during 2011, culminating with the adoption late November of a Maritime strategy for the Atlantic. Work will now go on during the next year to further shape the implementation of this strategy through an Action Plan. The Commission will facilitate the development of this Action Plan through a series of workshops and discussion groups that will be open to a wide array of participants - the 'Atlantic Forum'
In 2012, I also intend to present a legislative proposal on maritime spatial planning. The proposal will aim at ensuring that Member States provide a stable, reliable and future-oriented integrated planning framework to optimize the use of marine space in order to benefit economic development and protect the marine environment.
Next year, I will also present a new initiative called Blue Growth. The aim of Blue Growth is to identify and unlock new sources of growth from oceans, seas and coastal regions. The proposals will build on the findings of an on-going study exploring sustainable growth and employment in established, emerging and prospective maritime sectors based on the innovative use of marine and coastal resources as drivers for innovation and competitiveness.
Joint action needed now
If we don't act now, only a handful of fish stocks out of more than a hundred will be healthy by 2022. A 'business as usual' scenario would make us lose one fish stock after another, with heavy repercussions for the ecosystem and of course for the fishing industry itself.
So the challenges for the future are far from negligible. There are major hurdles that we need to overcome to get there. But I am confident that we will manage to achieve these ambitious objectives if we all act together.