Article Index

Where next for Europe's seas, 6 March 2024

Charlina Vitcheva, Director General of DG MARE of the European Commission hosted this day of reflection about possible and desirable futures. In the light of the forthcoming new political cycle, whatever the composition of the European Parliament and the Commission, the new incumbants will have to deal with the triple crisis of biodiversity loss, pollution, and climate change. One can add as a fourth challenge to develop inclusive and socially equitable solutions.

Manuel Barange, Deputy Director General Fisheries of the FAO, gave a keynote summarising the broad global picture. He deplored the rebound of hunger, currently affecting more than 700 million people across the globe. While production of wild seafood and aquaculture products now enabled a nominal 20.2 kg of fish and seafood per person and year, African countries achieved only about half that. If the continent were to achieve the current level of nutritional value from fish an increase of 284% would be required by the year 2050.

Aquaculture consisted mostly of freshwater fish relatively low in the foodweb, such as carps, which made up 62.2% of the global total  But sustainability remained a concern in aquaculture, especially of carnivorous species, such as salmon.

This year, when the Voluntary Guidelines for Ensuring Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries celebrate their 10-year anniversary, one can not overemphasise their importance for livelihoods, food security, jobs and maritime cultures. One has to keep in mind that trade in fishery products is the biggest source of income for many low and middle-income countries (LMIC).

Mainstreaming biodiversity conservation, ocean restoration and the global objectives to end hunger must top the political and operational agendas.

In her response Charlina Vitcheva flagged that with increasing tensions across the world. In addition the goal posts in maritime affairs were made to move. By way of example she mentioned: the US and other countries extending their continental shelf area significantly, Norway starting deep sea mining despite its role as chair of the Ocean Panel of countries intent to increase ocean protection and sustainable use, China deploying its formidable distance fleet not only in West Africa and along the South American coast. Europe had its own tensions and was struggling to remain a stable international partner to move forward on the essential restoration agenda. She argued that more attention needed to be paid to the social and economic dimensions, including an ageing population in general and difficulties to attract young people e.g. into fisheries when resources were declining. In addition, competition for space of many different activities were not making the management of Exclusive Economic Zones any easier.

In order to reflect about these and other challenges, four thematic discussion sessions in smaller groups were scheduled and worked on the same probing questions. The themes were:

- global drivers
- economy
- society
- innovation.

All participants were assigned to a group with different participants to cover each theme and bring forward the major take-home messages to future planning. The rapporteurs and moderators of each group then brough these key points together and four principal rapporteurs shared the synthesis of each theme in plenary.

In literally all themes the need for citizen engagement and promoting inclusive approaches emerged as a red thread flanked by more specifics for each topic and region across Europe. More than 100 people participated in the group discussions and contributed their experiences and insights.

The Commission promises to document the process and make a summary available after the meeting.