Maritime Policy: opportunities and concerns
EU fisheries policy must recognise the human element in this vitally important sector, ensuring the welfare and safety of fishermen and their families.
When the COMECE/CEC delegation, together with representatives of the Church of Greece, met the in-coming EU Presidency team in Athens on 10 January last, one of the key priorities signalled by the Deputy Foreign Minister with specific responsibility for European Affairs, Dimitris Kourkoulas, was maritime policy. With Italy taking over the EU Presidency in July and the Mediterranean, the mare nostrum, shared by both of the presidency member states, it is no surprise that the sea and all who earn a living from it should matter deeply as a central policy issue to both Greece and Italy.
Coastal and maritime tourism are key drivers for creating growth and new jobs in Europe as a whole, but in the central and eastern Mediterranean region in particular. A major EU Commission conference on this subject was held in Athens on 10 March, involving the widest possible range of stakeholders. The Greeks are thus delivering on their Presidency promises. But there are wider issues, some of them disturbing, where the EU and its saline waters are concerned.
The Apostleship of the Sea (UK) and its sister organizations in other countries is a charity concerned with the welfare of seamen and their families, as well as the protection of the sea itself.
During the papal audience at the close of the 23rd World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea in November 2012, Pope Benedict addressed the following words of encouragement to those working in the fishing sector and their families:
“… they more than others must face the difficulties of the present time and live the uncertainty of the future, marked by the negative effects of climate change and the excessive exploitation of resources. To you fishermen, who seek decent and safe working conditions, safeguarding the dignity of your families, the protection of the environment and the defence of every person’s dignity, I would like to ensure the Church’s closeness.”
Throughout her history the Church has been close to fishermen and their families. Scripture is replete with references to fishing. The apostles were fishermen, most notably St. Peter, the first Pope. Today, through the global ministry of the Apostleship of the Sea, the Church continues to have a deep understanding and appreciation of the fishing sector.
Two major challenges face EU fishermen. Let’s briefly address these challenges and consider our response.
The import of farmed fish from South East Asia
EU fishermen cannot compete on price with much of the fish imported from South East Asia. Consumers are dazzled by the price but our gain all too often comes at a human and environmental cost. Conditions of slavery and servitude are pervasive in the global fishing industry, not least in South East Asia where fishing methods can show scant regard for the protection of the marine environment. The EU must take greater care to ensure that fish imported to the EU is ethically sourced and traded.
A perceived conflict between fishing and environmental sustainability
Illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing depletes fish stocks, destroys marine habitats and puts honest fishermen at a disadvantage. IUU fishing creates a perception that fishing is a ‘problem’, an outdated practice that is environmentally unsustainable. We need to move away from this paradigm. Fishermen recognise the need to be good stewards of God’s creation. In Belgium, during the mass which is celebrated as part of the country’s annual celebration for fishing families, fishermen bring forward a basket of fish to the altar during the offertory. This is a beautiful expression of fishermen’s environmental consciousness and their desire to give thanks to God for His generosity.
For the fishing industry in the EU the major challenge is finding a balance between earning a living wage on the one hand and, on the other, careful management of resources so that we safeguard fish stocks for future generations.
EU fisheries policy must recognise the human element in this vitally important sector, ensuring that the welfare and safety of fishermen and their families are not overlooked in our desire for cheaper fish and more sustainable environmental practices.
National Director of the Apostleship of the Sea (UK)