Today, Wednesday 13 July, the European Commission releases its package of proposals for radical fisheries reform based on extensive consultations and intensive work over the last 24 months.
One of the main measures proposed in the package is a blunt economic instrument designed to drastically reduce fishing capacity: the introduction of transferable fishing concessions for all vessels over 12 metres in length, and for all vessels under 12 metres with towed gears.
A raft of measures is also included, designed to end discards, promote resource conservation, and use science as the basis for fisheries management. According to Maria Damanaki, the European Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Commissioner, the reform has "sustainability written all over it".
There is no doubt that Europe's fisheries are sick: obese on subsidies, vomiting up discards, consumptive of fuel and other resources, and generally not fit for purpose (unable to meet consumer demands). But along with a blunt instrument for fleet reduction, the cure must surely provide an energising injection and or at least setting a level playing field for Europe's small-scale artisanal fisheries; lean, fit, potentially sustainable if treated fairly, and highly competitive. If Europe's fisheries have a future, small scale artisanal fisheries must surely form a central part in it.
The 2010 Annual Economic Report published recently by the European Commission adds weight to calls for such a remedy. Data in this report reveals that vessels operating with passive gears (such as longliners, purse seiners, netters, vessels using traps and pots as used by small
scale fisheries) generally performed better than active gears (such as demersal trawlers, beam trawlers and vessels using polyvalent active gears), with certain gear types struggling to ensure profitability, such as demersal and beam trawlers.
Unless the Commission's blunt instrument is applied with care and discrimination, it could prove fatal to the most environmentally sustainable and most socially equitable fishery operations. Early promises that such care and discrimination would be applied through a differentiated approach seem to have faded into the background.
Deliberately or not, small scale artisanal fishers are being squeezed out, and are becoming in danger of extinction. European Commission projections show employment in the fish catching sector as set to decline by 60% over the next 10 years; declines which are likely to fall more heavily on the small scale sector, which employs most of the fisheries workforce.
Alongside the use of such a blunt instrument, some careful surgery is needed to ensure that the healthy socio-economic tissue is not excised along with the flab.
Radical reform is certainly needed. But please don't kill the patient.
ICSF is an international non-governmental organization that works towards the establishment of equitable, gender-just, self-reliant and sustainable fisheries, particularly in the small-scale, artisanal sector, and is part of the Terra Madre Network.
For more, please visit www.icsf.net
or contact Brian O'Riordan, Secretary ICSF Belgium Office, Sentier des Rossignols 2, 1330 Rixensart, Belgium. Tel: 02 6525201. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org