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Saturday, 8 November 2014

Spawning LIFE in small-scale fisheries

"Coastal communities which depend on small-scale fishing need tailored and specific support to help them thrive, grow, and provide incomes and jobs." 

That was the message during the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy and that message was heard when the new policy came to fruition. That isn’t just because small-scale fisheries have always played an important role in Europe’s fishing industry. Or because their mostly small vessels are synonymous with large parts of Europe's coasts. Rather it's because the sector has a potential to deliver sustainable jobs, to feed local communities in the long term, and to lessen the impact of the ecosystems they operate in. 



That potential is enormous. Small vessels deliver over 40% of the primary sector’s total employment, make up 80% of the fleet, and provide European citizens with fresh, local seafood often directly available to the consumers. They also help provide work elsewhere in the community - in local distribution, in net manufacturing, or even in the repair industry. Many don't trawl nets, but rather use passive gears such as fixed nets, traps, hooks and lines. These techniques have a reduced impact on the environment and contribute to lower discard rates, another central plank of the new CFP. But such a large group is inevitably not a homogenous one and that creates challenges in itself. The term small-scale fisheries encompasses those which fish 20kg per trip, to those who fish closer to 20 tonnes. 

Small-scale fishermen have encountered problems regarding access to fishing quotas, in securing acknowledgment by the rest of the industry, and in gaining representation in the advisory bodies that guide the sector. That's why the CFP has started to make inroads into these challenges. It introduced specific rules to keep the administrative burden for small-scale fishermen and their SME businesses, as low as possible – they do not have to keep a logbook of their fishing activities, for instance. The EU is also making sure that the right sort of investment is being made. Access to funding has been made easier, and under the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) a higher co-financing rate of 75% (50% higher than the normal rate) apples to small vessels. 

But it's not just about financing according to Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, it's about "providing a framework to safeguard small-scale fishermen’s activities". Providing that framework is not just something which can be done centrally by the EU. Since conservation and access measures are largely local in origin, small-scale fishermen need a greater voice. 

To give them that a group of over 1,000 fishermen from around Europe have formed LIFE (Low Impact Fishers of Europe), an organisation that represents the interests of small scale, low impact fishermen and women. LIFE sets out to influence policy development and implementation and to ensure that all fishing in Europe is carried out in a sustainable manner, that harmful fishing practises are eradicated in line with the new CFP, and that concerns of small-scale fisheries are heard.  

Small-scale fisheries, small vessels, and small, often family run, businesses are the heartbeat of many of Europe's coasts. With the help of the changes to the CFP, the financial support on offer, and the growing collective voice of the sector, small-scale fisheries can continue to be that lifeblood for generations to come. 

  Interview with Jeremy Percy Executive Director of LIFE (Low Impact Fishers of Europe)

Q: How can local, national and international communities support the work that LIFE and small scale fishermen are doing? 

LIFE is an organisation of organisations so on a local and national basis, small scale fishermen's organisations in our sector across Europe should join LIFE. This will serve to strengthen their own positions and give them a pan-European voice. Internationally, similar groups are invited to get in touch to share best practice and give further weight to our aims and aspirations. LIFE will reciprocate. At the same time, we are also keen to work with non-fishing organisations that support and encourage sustainability in fisheries and the marine environment. Fishing always seems to be at some sort of crossroads or other and the current situation is no different. What is different is that for the first time, the overwhelming majority of fishermen across the EU have the chance to get their voice heard and through LIFE can have a real impact on their future survival and prosperity.