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DG Mare conference blog: The $8 billion value-added opportunity

The IntraFish team covers all the most critical developments in the European fishing industry at the two-day EU conference.

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Friday, Feb. 5, 12.07 p.m. CET

Is the glass half full or half empty?

Looking back at 1.5 days of heated debate whether or not there's enough being done to include economic advice in fisheries management, the four last panelists share their views on how to move forward.

Politicians, such as Commissioner Karmenu Vella, see it as an absolutely crucial issue. But how good is the industry now?

Serge Garcia, chair of the fisheries experts group at IUCN, said economics have been behind fisheries management for "the last five decades" but no one is open about it.

Still, he said, there are vast discrepancies between "rich countries and poor countries" as well as between large-scale fisheries and small-scale fisheries.

But overall, there is "no question there needs to be a better connect between economic data and fisheries management."

"We have plenty of examples of the connection of these two groups but there is no main-streaming of it," he told the audience.

Douglas Lipton of the National Marine Fisheries Service at NOAA, agreed saying while there are single instances, many nations, including the United States, "could do a lot better."

Especially when setting quotas and total allowable catches (TACs) there is "very little involvement."

But partly economic questions are being asked, for instance who is going to get access to quota. In the United States, he said, the law requires economic analysis such as social impact analysis and benefit-cost analysis of particular regulations.

"On that stage there is a lot of economic involvement," he said.

Erik Lindebo of the Environmental Defense Fund, took the discussion one step further, saying he would like to bring "economic thinking" -- and not analysis and data -- into the mix.

"We don’t reflect on what kind of questions we’re trying to answer," he said. This, Lindebo believes, needs to happen on a regional rather than an international or EU-wide basis.

"We need more dialogue, more strategic thinking between economists and ecologists but on a regional level," he said.

Javier Garat Perez of Europeche, made it very clear: "We need the integration of the socio-economic dimension into the system, together with the biological dimension.

"I trust the commission we will move in the right direction and I hope actions will follow these nice words," he said.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Friday, Feb. 5, 10.02 a.m. CET

A tiny industry with a huge socio-economic impact

Malta is a tiny island in a global perspective but one would think its importance as a fishing nation is a big one.

But no, the industry is relatively small, Mario Vella, executive chairman at Malta Enterprise, said.

"Fisheries and aquaculture in Malta, especially fisheries, are frankly marginal. We are really talking of small numbers," he said.

Exports of fish and seafood in 2014 amounted to €97.5 million, of which 85 percent was tuna.

The gross value added (GVA) to the Maltese economy was €27.5 million in the same year, which is 0.40 percent of the total GVA.

Contribution to the country's total exports was 2.6 percent that year.

But even though the fishing industry is small, it social significance "by far outweighs its economic importance," Vella said.

"If the fishing villages around this island were to disappear we would have a much poorer tourist program and much poorer country," he told the audience.

But the deteriorating infrastructure, the lack of investments in renewing the present fleet, and investing in size, low-priced imported fish and the declining availability of "popular" species, are issues weighing heavy on the industry.

"Size is an issue here. But it is important, that we’re certain," Vella said.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Friday, Feb. 5, 9.34 a.m. CET

We're managing people, not fish

A vast part of the global fishing industry -- which according to Jeremy Percy, executive director of the Low Imoact Fishers of Europe Organisation consists of 51 million fishermen -- is small-scale.

Nevertheless, they're often overlooked when regulators come up with new rules and regulations, he said.

Especially on the socio-economic impacts of these regulations, such as the discard ban, there is relatively little data available.

"The landing obligation is a huge concern to everyone, and small-scale fisheries are not any less impacted by it," he said.

In the United Kingdom about 77 percent of the fishermen are small-scale, but they get relatively little official support in coming to terms with the discards ban, he said.

The FAO's Rebecca Metzner picked up on this in her presentation, telling the audience "we're not managing fish, we're managing people.

"That's why socio-economic aspects are fundamental of what we do," she said.

There is change in fisheries management, but is certainly "not as fast as we'd like."

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 5.34 p.m. CET

The $8 billion value-added opportunity

"We have a great opportunity in front of us," Pablo Mugica, general manager at Spanish firm Krustagroup, told delegates at the DG Mare conference this afternoon.

And this opportunity lies in the "innovation curve," he said.

Instead of lamenting the depletion of wild fish stocks, haggling with governments over quotas, the industry simply needs to create more value, in a sustainable way.

"If the numbers are right, we’re never going to be leaders in catching or in processing," he said.

"Instead, we have the most sophisticated consumer market in the world [Europe]. It’s worth $8 trillion. That’s a scale you can develop on," he told delegates. 

Fish, he said, is still sold the way it was 30 years ago, while other sectors such as meat and fruit and vegetables have undergone a massive evolution.

"We can change consumer behavior towards sustainability, we can create added value and we can use this knowledge and then use it to enter market overseas."

In his "simplified" calculation, the focus on VAP could add $8 billion in value to the industry, $1 billion in exports and 100,000 jobs Europe-wide.

But to do it properly "a lot of money" will have to be invested in terms of technology, marketing and opening up new markets.

That's where governments and the European Union should come in. "Not with subsidies but with helping breaking into new markets," he said.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 5.19 p.m. CET

The risks of privately financing basic government services

The US domestic clam industry invests $400,000 each year in supplementary research in partnership with the National Clam Foundation.

The NFI Crab Council annually funds $600,000 in research and science in southeast Asia, and the ISSF sponsors $9 million for research in minimizing impacts of tuna harvesting, and provide information to eliminate the perception that tuna harvesting have.

Shouldn’t all this be paid by the government?

The fishing industry is the 7th most regulated sector in the United States, which means harvesters are paying enormous costs to sustain themselves.

John Connelly, president of the US National Fisheries Institute, told delegates sometimes the industry needs to give supplementary support as private players, mainly for three reasons -- well, there were four:

Firstly, the US government is broken – and broke — Connelly joked, "so we are not expecting them to give us money."

Secondly, governments can be slow, and the industry needs quick answers, it needs to lead up.

Thirdly, sometimes it is convenient to get ahead of a government imposed regulation.

And lastly, some other times, the industry wants to shape the regulation, so governments implement new norms on base of the ones that are already in place.

However, in the US, fisheries don’t have capital campaigns for vessel constructors, specific fuel subsidies, accelerated tax treatment, or reduced federal support for research.

The industry, Connelly said, can supplement, but it is not replacing the government -- it doesn’t have that force and authority, and definitely not that kind of power.

-- Lola Navarro

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 5.10 p.m. CET

Industry expert: End fisheries subsidies now!

Ragnar Arnason, professor at the School of Social Sciences, Faculty of Economics, University of Iceland, caused a small uproar this afternoon with his call to "end fisheries subsidies as soon as possible."

While he called the topic "extremely complicated" he said that bottom line is they "fundamentally alter or modify economic activity, have a real impact on fisheries behavior and that impact is usually in a negative direction."

In general, subsidized fisheries increase their fishing effort, which results in a reduction of fish stocks and an increase in environmental damage, and in the long-term is a threat to fishing communities. 

The Fisheries Centre estimates that global subsidies are currently at $30 billion. World Bank estimates put the number at $10 billion, Arnason said, explaining the gap with the different parameters used for defining fishing subsidies.

But despite the actual numbers, "fisheries subsidies are severely detrimental, both economically and environmentally," he said.

The only smart solution is to end subsidizing now, he urged.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 4.33 p.m. CET

There is no time to waste

How much money is spent on the collection of useless data? How much of the precious time of researchers and scientists is wasted?

While the industry is concerned about updating data at a quicker pace, researchers keep looking into our oceans without a clear goal, not only slowing the process but, in many occasions,  bringing answers to questions that were never raised, the conference audience heard this afternoon.

“Scientists and other producers of information and the bodies requesting data should sit down and determine what information is needed, why that information is needed, and how much money they are willing to pay to produce an answer.”

“Formulating questions is seriously underestimated,” Pavel Salz, managing director at Framian, told delegates at today’s panel on The Tools of Economic Advice in the CFP.

-- Lola Navarro

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 4.23 p.m. CET

Get the fishermen involved

Gerard Van Balsfoort, president of the Dutch Pelagic Freezer-trawler Association, called for more involvement of fishermen in the decision-making process of fisheries management.

"We need innovation in policy-making," he said.

There will be no "direct" involvement, without a doubt, but fishing companies can team up and drive change from within through cooperations in terms of technology development, stock assessment and science.

In the Netherlands "we've intensified our collaboration with existing scientific programs, and we also invested a lot in existing scientic stock assessment process by ICES," he said.

In addition, fishing companies set up new scientific projects, hired scientists and are collecting data when they send commercial vessels to sea.

But the real challenge in the next five to 10 years will be the "complexity" of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), and in that respect fishermen have to "develop entrepreneurial skills" to navigate their way around the regulation.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 4.10 p.m. CET

Drivers of change

Improving fisheries systems on a global basis was widely discussed in a panel this afternoon, and there will be several drivers of change.

James Anderson, professor at the Institute for Global Food Systems at the University of Florida, who formerly worked for the World Bank, said in his view the biggest drivers will be demand and market access.

This is "very much dominated" by traceability and sustainability -- as well as countries such as China.

Change will also come from lost opportunities and crisis such as habitat loss, depleted fisheries, fraud, waste, labor exploitation and "sunken billions."

Aquaculture will also play its role as it becomes an increasingly stronger competitor to fisheries.

But what really works in terms of improving fisheries remains an enigma. It could be better infrastructure, more data and stock assessments, more stakeholder meetings, community management, the securing of fishing rights, education and more enforcement.

He developed a new tool -- which he calls Fishery Performance Indicators -- which suggests it is actually a combination of factors.

Assessing 74 fisheries, it showed improved ecology is positively related to improved economics.

Improved economics on the other hand is positively related to improved economics. And infrastructure and rights work together to improve ecology and economics.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 1.20 p.m. CET

There is good news...

It's not all doom and gloom for EU's fishing industry, according to a new leaflet released by DG Mare.

According to figures for 2008 to 2013, the EU fishing fleet's economic performance is improving and having a positive impact on many EU coastal communities.

In 2013, the fleet generated more than €68 billion in revenue, and gross profit was about €1.3 billion. The contribution of the fisheries sector to the local economy was €3.4 billion in the same year.

The number of sustainable fish stocks has increased, and is leading to increased productivity. At the same time, fuel efficiency has improved greatly, with fuel use intensity decreasing by 16 percent between 2009 and 2013.

But obviously, challenges remain: The economic performance of the EU fleets in the Mediterranean and Black Sea regions continue to stagnate, DG Mare said.

The economic performance of small-scale coastal fleets also continued to deteriorate, while that for the large-scale fleet is improving.

Lastly, employment within the EU fleet continues to decline and there is an increasingly bigger need to create jobs and growth in coastal communities.

How are these challenges to be tackled? That question is not answered but conference delegates hope to get some answers here.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 12.46 p.m. CET

The short-fall of today's fisheries management? There's no economic aspect

There's one clear message all panelists had this morning: There needs to be a better integration of economic advice when managing fisheries.

The way it works today -- at least in Europe -- is that the EU commission follows ICES recommendations "and that's it," Europeche's Javier Garat said.

"We think economists should participate in the process" and come in when ICES draws out its different future scenarios on how fish stocks develop.

But at the moment "almost no one is listening to economic advice," he said.

Dale Marsden, senior economist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, said there's two elements that feed on each other.

Firstly, regulators only get the information they ask for. If there's no demand for economic advice then no one will produce the information neded. 

"Because that demand for that detailed information is not there we don’t have the capacity to build it up," he said.

Rognvaldur Hannesson, professor emeritus at the Norwegian School of Economics, went even a step further, suggesting governments should step back completely and not "try and micro-manage the fishing industry" just the same way they're not micro-managing other industries.

But "if governments insist on regulating the industry it makes no sense to do it with the relevant economic data," he said.

Alain Laurec, retired director fisheries conservation at the European Commission, agreed saying the important point is that "we all need to accept and integrate both economic and environmental consideration in our [fisheries] advice."

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 12.30 p.m. CET

Europeche president: Landing obligation a 'nightmare'

Javier Garat, president of EU fishing industry body Europeche, had some harsh words for EU regulators on Thursday morning.

"There are certain regulations that disrupt fisheries...for instance the landing obligation. It's a real nightmare," he told the audience.

No one has studied the socio-economic impacts of it at an EU level, he said, predicting if they did the results would be disastrous.

"The discard ban has left many fishermen with an array of additional challenges," he said. "This could be the end of many of our important fisheries in Europe."

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 12.20 p.m. CET

South Korea strives to strike a balance in fisheries management

Shin Hee Cho, director general at distant water fisheries division Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries in South Korea, admitted in her presentation on Thursday morning that it's "difficult to strike a right balance" in fisheries management.

"It is very difficult to balance economic interests and ecological interests," she told delegates.

South Korea is doing it's best, however. There the industry is regulated by two main programs -- the Vessel Decommissioning Program and Community-based Fisheries Management.

Through the fleet decommissioning efforts, the government over the last 20 years bought back vessels from the industry worth about $1.5 billion, she said, resulting in 18,000 less fishing boats at sea.

Biomass at the same time increased from 800 million metric tons to 860 million metric tons.

But there's still more than 45,000 vessels fishing in Korean waters and the government has plans to reduce this by a further of around 4,400 by 2020, Hee Cho said.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 12.14 p.m. CET

Canada's fishing industry in numbers

The Canadian fishing industry landed fish and seafood worth €1.9 billion in 2014, Dale Marsden, senior economist at Fisheries and Oceans Canada, told delegates in this morning's panel.

Recently there has been a shift toward shellfish, he said.

Lobster now accounts for 34 percent of the landed value, snow crab for 19 percent and shrimp for 15 percent.

The main trade partners are the United States, the European Union and Japan.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 10.22 a.m. CET

Stop trying to find a balance

Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries, said it is essential that the industry stops looking for balance between economic and environmental inputs as these are two “conflicting” activities, rather, it needs to find a way to integrate them in such way that one helps the progress of the other.

“Fishing is an economic activity and fishermen are economic agents, I can’t imagine how we could even think of leaving economics out of the equation,” he told delegates.

“To now, we have convinced the economic sector to think environmentally, I think it’s only fair that the environmental sector starts to think economically, too.”

-- Lola Navarro

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 10.15 a.m. CET

The worst thing a politician can do

According to Leo Brincat, minister for the environment, sustainable development and climate change in Malta -- and I’m sure some of us will agree -- the worst thing anyone in politics can do is to make a decision without knowing what they’re talking about.

"Economic and scientific background on a technical subject like this are essential, there needs to be accurate information in order to make the right decisions. The worst thing a politician can do is to take a decision without being well-informed,” he said.

-- Lola Navarro

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 10.10 a.m. CET

Is the industry attractive enough?

Much more can be done when it comes to engaging with potential workforce, and much of it has to do with financial investment, according to Roderick Galdes, parliamentary secretary for agriculture, fisheries and animal rights in Malta. 

"Aging population within the industry is an issue, and there is also a lack of female participation -- there are difficulties attracting women and young people,” he said.

“Low wages for fishermen do not make of this a very attractive industry, and old vessels don't help either, we need investment to upgrade our vessels and modernize our fleet, policy makers should take all this into account.”

-- Lola Navarro

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 10.00 a.m. CET

A fresh perspective

Economic advice has often been used to defer or avoid taking a tough decision, and that should not be the case any longer, said Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries at the opening remarks of the Economic advice in fisheries management conference in Malta.

Economic advice is needed in the management of fisheries to back up proposals rather than to discard them, to adopt state of the art tools to adapt to the needs of the industry and achieve reliable data, and to measure and demonstrate the impacts of management systems.

“Fishery policies are based on science, and we need to ensure that science is up to scratch,” Vella said.

Timing is also key in optimizing the efficiency of available data.

“There is a long time between collecting data, processing it, analyzing it, and integrating it to our programs, that is why we need to invest in new data collection systems that help us speed up the process,” he urged.

-- Lola Navarro

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Thursday, Feb. 4, 08.30 a.m. CET

A trialogue between science, administration and stakeholders

The SeaWeb Seafood Summit in Saint Julian's, Malta, just concluded but our work here is not done yet: Over the next two days the sleepy town will host another conference, this time organized by the European Fisheries Commission (DG Mare) in collaboration with the European Association of Fisheries Economists (EAFE) and the University of Malta.

The event will center around the subject of economic advice in fisheries management, and speakers will include members from the science community, officials and industry and other stakeholders. 

Things kick off this morning with a keynote by Karmenu Vella, EU commissioner for environment, maritime affairs and fisheries.

Plenary sessions will focus on questions such as how economic advice contributes to fisheries management in major nations, finding out effective tools for economic advice, global drivers on fisheries and what kind of public support is a valuable one for fisheries.

Click here for the full agenda.

--Elisabeth Fischer

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