Let the juveniles become parents

Mairi Maniopoulou, Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, Esta dirección de correo electrónico está siendo protegida contra los robots de spam. Necesita tener JavaScript habilitado para poder verlo.

The member of the European Commission in charge of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Mrs Maria Damanaki has been speaking out since being appointed to the post in favour of rebuilding healthy fish populations so that European citizens can continue enjoying high quality seafood and fishermen have a future.

Under her stewardship, since the launch of the highly self-critical Green Paper in 2009, the reform of the European Common Fisheries Policy has been debated in countless meetings with stakeholders up and down the European Union, in the parliaments, in the European Council, with civil society organisations and in fishing ports.

Now that the reform has been agreed by the institutions, the emphasis is shifting towards implementation. Everybody understands that this is not only a matter of administrative rules.

It is about winning the hearts and minds of citizens to create the conditions and to develop the moral purpose and the values necessary to take us collectively out of the crisis and onto a path of rebuilding, healing and enjoying again the beauty and wealth of the oceans and seas. The reform is pointing in the right direction, but has some weaknesses which can best be addressed through broad-based critical engagement of citizens. After all, who 'own' the fish, if not the public, which needs to exercise stronger stewardship, making better use of research results and working across the spectrum to find robust solutions to the current crisis.

This is why she hosted an event in Athens on March 17, at "Technopolis" Cultural Centre seeking to engage citizens to "Let the juveniles become parents". The event took place in the framework of the new pan-European campaign ‘Inseparable’, which aims at raising awareness on sustainable practices of fishing, consuming and trading as well as on how to build even wider public support for implementing the reformed Common Fisheries Policy. A wide range of stakeholders made it to the event in Athens.

Fishermen, scientists, chefs, fishmongers, teachers, students, consumer and civil society organisations committed to more sustainable ways of fish consumption. As part of the event, Mrs Damanaki proclaimed three Greek chefs: Mrs Argiro Barbarigou and Messrs. Lefteris Lazarou and Dimitris Skarmoutsos as EU Goodwill Ambassadors for sustainable fisheries.

This new effort aims at prompting consumers and fishers alike to saying NO to fish that have not had the chance to reproduce, and so contribute to the replenishment of Mediterranean stocks, 80% of which are currently overfished.

In these times of economic, social and ecological hardship, the choice to avoid juvenile fish is a necessity for the preservation of the rich cultural heritage of coastal and fishing communities, and the livelihoods of fishers themselves, now and in the future.

The Minister of Rural Development and Food, Prof. Athanasios Tsaftaris, expressed his support for the initiative and outlined the actions that the government is taking in this respect.

Prof. Konstantinos Stergiou, Director of the Institute of Marine Biological Resources and Inland Waters of the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research, highlighted the devastating impact of eating undersized fish, and explained, why we must change our habits so as to achieve sustainable consumption. Many people may not have fully realised the consequences or even the fact that they were eating babies. But after the talk, it was clear to everyone, letting the babyfish grow to mature size and letting them reproduce was the best investment ever into eating good fish also in the future.

In preparation of the event, Mundus maris, Prof. Stergiou and his research groups in Thessaloniki and Athens had collaborated with the FishBase Information and Research Group (FIN) in the Philippines to produce a fish ruler indicating the minimum size at which the preferred fish species reproduce in Greek waters. Colour pictures of the fish species are printed on the ruler with the Greek name and the indication of the minimum size to facilitate identification and use.

For some species this biological minimum coincides with the minimum legal landing size determined by an administrative process.

However, worryingly, for quite a number of these species, the minimum legal size is far to small and perversely encourages overfishing of juveniles.

The worst case is the Common Dentex (Dentex dentex) : it is legal to land baby Dentex at a length of only 8 cm, while the biological minimum is 42,5 cm, more than five times bigger!

Some other species do not fare much better. Among them are the Reg porgy (Pagrus pagrus), which should be 37 cm long, more than twice the minimum legal landing size of 18 cm, and the two mackerel species (Atlantic chub mackerel - Scomber colias - and the Atlantic mackerel - Scomber scombrus), allowed to be landed at 18 cm, while maintaining a healthy population requires a minimum biological size of more than 27 cm.

Realising this, we all understand much better, why fish resources in Greece have all but collapsed and thus fish prices are at an all-time-high. The demand to the authorities is therefore to align the minimum legal landing size immediately to the biological minimum and establish marine protected areas for nature and the marine ecosystems to heal and rebuild themselves.

Greek fish lovers, children and tourists will love it to see the fish come back in good abundance – the fishers themselves should seize the straw offering a future to their profession or hobby. Fish rulers have been distributed to the wide audience that participated in the event.

Teachers and pupils expressed their excitement and great interest in using the fish ruler for educational purposes and everyday usage at home as a tool to make sure they only consume adult fish. The fish ruler was also a very important tool for chefs to use at the Chefs' School while educating students and as a necessary tool of their cooking.

  Fishermen present in the event have also expressed their interest for its practical usage on the boat, commenting that the fish rulers could have had a sticker on the back side for easier way to collate on the boat (this is a welcome idea for further improvement of the next edition). In the meantime, we trust their ingenuity to find a solution for fixing it themselves.

Greek schoolchildren, together with ‘Teachers 4 Europe’, were there to ask their parents, teachers and policy makers to take the ‘No Juveniles’ message seriously, and displayed videos, artwork and presentations to support the work they created.

In the ‘Know’ area, the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research raised public awareness on sustainability and disseminated educational material to children. Educational material included, amongst others, the fish ruler and involved drawing attention to FishBase, the free information platform on the web for anything you ever wanted to know about fish.

In the ‘Presentations’ area, WWF-Greece, in collaboration with A.B. Vassilopoulos, fish marketing company ‘Manios’ and the Fisheries Research Institute (FRI) presented their project for the improvement of the sustainability of fishing fleets.

The European Fisheries Areas Network (FARNET) presented three of their projects, involving processing, packaging and standardisation of fish products in Thessaloniki, alternative marine tourism in Lesvos, and the promotion of capture fisheries and aquaculture products in Cyprus.

The ‘Sell and Buy Responsibly area saw several Greek NGOs presenting their work in on protecting the marine environment, while Greenpeace and WWF offered interactive games and a quiz on sustainable fisheries as well as fish rulers to help consumers measure size and avoid the consumption of undersized fish.

In the ‘Eat Responsibly area, the Anavissos School of Chefs wowed the audience with six different recipes using sustainable fish products, and also tested people’s knowledge with a quiz of flavours.

If you want a fish ruler (100 cm, printed on water proof material) to help letting young fish grow to become adults or otherwise support the protection of the oceans, please e-mail the author.