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Ministers agree to fight against illegal fishing

Mediterranean fisheries: Ministers agree to step up management, controls and fight against illegal fishing

26th November 2003

The Ministerial Conference on the Sustainable Development of Fisheries in the Mediterranean came to a close today. In a joint declaration, fisheries ministers from the Mediterranean states agreed to bring to life the regional fisheries organisation for the Med, the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM). The Scientific Advisory Committee of GFCM will draw up concrete proposals on scientific evaluation of shared stocks in the Mediterranean and present them to GFCM at the latest in October 2004. It was further concluded to develop conservation and control mechanisms in GFCM preserving shared stocks to ensure profitable fishing in the Mediterranean. Ministers consider that the creation of fisheries protection zones will permit the improvement of conservation and control of fisheries and thus contributes to better resource management and to combating illegal fishing. A more detailed examination should be made of the modalities for the creation of fisheries protection zones taking into account precedents, with a view to employing a concerted and regional approach suited to the needs of the fisheries concerned and based on dialogue and co-ordination. In order to progress in this direction, the Mediterranean States shall co-operate at the appropriate regional level.

"We have to halt the steep decline in many shared stocks, and we need to achieve sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean. In this context, this conference has been a real success. There is a broad consensus that we have to improve fisheries management in the Mediterranean. We will only achieve this goal if we share our experience, our knowledge and our technology. I am confident that in a short period of time our guidelines will be transformed into concrete proposals and that our work will continue within GFCM delivering visible results. And we have agreed to sift out the problems that impede its growth, by fighting together the worst plague affecting the fisheries sector, namely illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing", said Franz Fischler, Commissioner for agriculture, rural development and fisheries.

On the matter of fisheries protection zones, the Commissioner said: "We cannot achieve a significant improvement in fisheries management in the Mediterranean without extending the jurisdiction of coastal states beyond their territorial waters and creating larger fisheries protection zones. We are in full agreement that the good spirit of collaboration and co-operation, that has been the basis of our work here in Venice, is also the basis for having a dialogue on the possible extension of Fisheries Protection Zones. We have to work together to find a way forward that is acceptable to everybody. In an area like the Mediterranean, with shared resources and strong historical relations among neighbours, problems cannot be solved by unilateral action. This would be a waste of energy, time and resources.

There cannot be sustainable management of fisheries resources in the Mediterranean without an effective control scheme and there can be no effective control scheme as long as most of the Mediterranean waters remain subject to the regime applicable to the high seas. Let me make it very clear: we are aiming at a co-ordinated extension of jurisdiction as regards the exploitation of marine resources only. It is also clear that we have to try and conserve as much as possible historical fishing patterns".

The full conclusions of the Venice conference are available at:


Fishing plays an important economic, social and cultural role in the European Union and in the Mediterranean where it employs over 100,000 fishermen on over 40,000 vessels. There are several straddling stocks and highly migratory species like tuna, swordfish, sardine and anchovy. It is a semi-closed sea - reinforced co-operation is called for, not only among bordering countries but also with non-Mediterranean parties who are involved in fisheries in the area. And it is one of the last maritime regions where coastal states have not extended their jurisdiction beyond territorial waters and therefore illegal fisheries can easily operate in the high sea.

Over the last 20 years, catches of several keys commercial stocks have been in steep decline, despite the increase in fishing effort. The pattern is familiar. At first, catches increase due to an increase in fishing effort (see links below)). But soon after catches decline significantly for the fleets. Scientists warn that there are too many juveniles in the catches and that the part of the fish stock that is mature enough to reproduce is very low for a number of species. If no action is taken now, there is a risk of the same situation in the Mediterranean as is now being faced with stocks in the North Sea and the Atlantic. Commercially important stocks for our fishermen will decline and more stocks will risk being on the verge of collapse. Landings will become lower, posing problems for the processing industry. Export markets will be lost. Income from fishing will decrease and fishing communities around the Mediterranean will suffer. Countries will be forced to import even more fish than they do today, instead of harvesting it themselves from the Mediterranean Sea.

Graphs to show catch increase and subsequent decline due to increase in fishing effort - (each link shown below will download a jpeg of approx. 40KB)

European seabass

Red mullet

Common sole

European hake

Norway Lobster

Horned and musky octopuses

Spiny lobster

Blue whiting