LIFE calls for inclusive Blue Growth

LIFE calls for inclusive Blue Growth at the Our Ocean Conference


Brussels, 16th of October 2017

Brian O’Riordan, Deputy Director of the Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) welcomed the FAO initiative on Blue Growth, that put small scale fisheries at its centre. This contrasted with the approach taken by the European Commission that differentiated between the Blue Economy, which included all elements of the marine economy, and Blue Growth. The latter focussed on cherry picked economic sectors considered to have potential for growth, excluding those considered to have limited potential. He felt that in shaping Blue Growth strategies, greater emphasis needed to be put on sustainable development of the Blue Economy, built as it was on three pillars of sustainable development; economic, environmental and social. The Blue Economy should work for all maritime sectors, not just a few.

Over the last 35 years, small-scale fisheries have been overlooked by the European Commission, and excluded from policy making processes in Europe. In effect, the small-scale sector – using vessels under 12 metres and non-towed gears – has become a “forgotten fleet”. The opportunities presented by the “Green Paper process” in 2009 to review Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) prompted a group of fishers to launch LIFE in 2012 on the eve of a new CFP.

In Europe, analysis by the Scientific, Technical, and Economic Committee on Fisheries (STECF), an official advisory body of the European Commission, highlights that Europe’s small scale fishing fleet accounts for 82% of the overall fleet by numbers, and 74% of the active vessels , some 8% of the gross registered tonnage, uses 7% of the fuel, and lands 5% of the catch by weight and 12% by value. This, the majority fleet provides 51% of the employment, and at 65% GVA/revenue, has the highest gross value added as a percentage of revenue (official infographic by the EC: ). However, earnings and wages are low, partly because the fleet is unable to access sufficient quota, having to fall back non-quota species.   

It is incoherent that small-scale fisheries, with its inherent potential for added value and increased earnings, and its synergies with tourism, should be excluded from European Blue Growth strategies, whilst aquaculture is included. Over the last 10 years, aquaculture production in Europe has stagnated, showing declines of up to 20%. Yet, it is included as a “growth” sector, and, according to DG Mare Maritime Policy and Blue Economy Director, requires “business certainty, lean administrative procedures and adequate space” to develop.

This recognition that aquaculture requires space to develop, whilst overlooking that with similar dedicated space and policies, small scale fisheries also have significant potential to grow, to provide jobs, and to contribute to local economies is misguided.

Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is a tool with great potential to secure productive fishing grounds for small scale fishers, and to ensure that other interests competing for ocean space do not encroach in these areas. Around Europe, there are both good and bad examples of MSP being used to favour or discriminate against small scale fisheries. In the case of Malta, there are ambitious plans to establish Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) under the European Natura 2000 scheme. Natura 2000 sites have been identified by scientists within the 3-mile zone, which occupy over 40% of the small-scale fishing grounds. Small-scale fishers have not been consulted about this, and are to be excluded from fishing in these areas. Ironically the areas have been selected because of their “good environmental status”, which would imply that the centuries old fishing activities that have used these grounds are low in impact, and compliment conservation objectives.

Under EU law, these Special Areas of Conservation must address the conservation of species and habitats in conjunction with the social and economic activities in place, including fisheries.

In Catalonia, the government are passing a decree that will make fisheries co-management law, putting fishermen at the centre of governance. This will enable fishers not only to have a say in how fisheries are managed, but to ensure that their voices are heard when it comes to allocating ocean space for other activities.

It is time that decision takers recognize the importance of fishing to local and national economies, and the potential of fishing to provide sustainable jobs, food supplies, and livelihoods, if developed and managed correctly.

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