The reform process comes at a time when the European fishing communities face several crises. A resource crisis, where fishing capacity of EU fleets exceeds by far the resources available, and where there are ever diminishing returns to fishing, and ever diminishing fishing opportunities; a fuel crisis where fishing operations are highly dependent on fuel, where escalating costs and uncertainty over future supplies are undermining the economic basis of fishing; a global economic crisis that is creating a scarcity of credit and other funds for investment, and that is eroding consumer purchasing power; a food security crisis, with a rapidly increasing gap between supply and demand for fisheries products, where over 60% of EU demand for fisheries products must be met by imports; and a socio-economic crisis in fishery dependent coastal communities arising from the combined impact of all these other crises.
The Green Paper highlights that fisheries play an important role in the social fabric and the cultural identity of many of Europe’s coastal regions, and that many coastal communities remain dependent on fisheries for their income, some of them with limited potential for economic diversification. Ensuring their sustainability in the face of these crises must be a priority of the reform process.
Small-scale fisheries could play a vital role in placing EU fisheries on a more sustainable footing, and cushioning fishery dependent communities from the economic and social consequences of the current fisheries crisis facing the EU, and from the measures required to address it. Under the right conditions, small-scale fisheries have greater capacity for employment in decent work, greater capacity to distribute the benefits from fishing more equitably, less requirements for fuel and other inputs, and greater capacity to adapt seasonally, annually and multi-annually to changing circumstances, economically, ecologically and socially.
But small-scale fishers are often poorly organized, and their interests largely under represented at national, regional and European level. Existing national and pan-European institutional arrangements tend to be biased towards larger, more economically powerful interests. This tends to marginalize the small-scale sector in the consultation and decision-making processes, leaving them less well informed about developments that affect them (policy changes, new regulations, international trade, climate change, and so on), making them more vulnerable to competition from other interests.
At the same time women play a vital, though often hidden role in the fishery production and post harvest processes. At one level they may be partners and mothers of fishermen. But women are also physically, economically and socially engaged in providing inputs, engaging in fishing, fish processing and fish vending and marketing, and in the administration of small fishery enterprises. In such roles, women are often underpaid, overworked, and not respected. They tend to be under represented in fisher organizations, and without a voice in regional and EU level decision making and consultative processes. This works against sustainable development, and needs to be addressed in the reform process.
In reforming EU fisheries in ways that strengthen fishing communities's capacities to pull through the crises facing them, answers to the following questions, amongst others, need to be found: