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EU Commission: “We Need To Reduce The World’s Tuna Fleet”

The Spanish city of San Sebastian will be hosting the Second Joined Meeting of Tuna RFMOs from June 29th to July 3rd 2009. However, the European Commission (EC), the organizers, invited all participants for an informal – and very interesting – preliminary meeting in Rome on March 6th to discuss the agenda of the Joined Meeting.

Roberto Cesari, Head of Regional Fisheries Organizations Sector for the EC, was present at the meeting and his unit is working on the contents for San Sebastian.

In this interview for Mr. Cesare shares his views and the EC position on how tuna RFMOs should be managed in the future and raises sensitive issues for the industry such as the reduction of the world’s tuna fishing fleet. What was the purpose of the informal meeting organized by the European Commission in Rome last March 6th?

Roberto Cesari: We are preparing a big meeting, so it’s quite natural that we want to talk to our partners and COFI’s meeting was the opportunity to have all of them at the same time at the same place, that’s why we organized this side event. My unit will be dealing the San Sebastian meeting, which is the follow up of the COFI meeting. We are working on the agenda, the sections of meeting, the documents, and so on. Once we have identified the main sections of the meeting we wanted to share that information with the five tuna RFMOs secretariat to come up with an agenda.

Do you already have an agenda for the meeting?

We presented the tentative draft of the agenda this month, not the definitive. Even though the European Commission is driving the meeting we don’t want to be the only ones providing inputs for it. There will be another draft agenda, and we suggested the participants of the meeting to submit their inputs by March 20th, the deadline, before we circulate the new version of the agenda.

How was the discussion about the topics that should be included on the agenda?

Well, this last meeting was based on our tentative agenda, but the main reason was to feel the reactions of our ideas for the RFMO meeting itself.  We want to have a very focused meeting first of all, we don’t want to have general discussions of principles. Considering this is the second meeting of that kind, we want to have some operational discussion and then follow-up of Kobi’s meeting. We are thinking about having two workshops, one about the current situation of the course of actions that has been decided in Kobi. There would be presentations from the five tuna RFMOs of what they have and have not been doing in these two years. So the first workshop would be a follow up of Kobi’s meeting, but trying to develop more concrete actions for the future follow up of San Sebastian, which will be mainly about how to strengthen tuna RFMOs and how to harmonize actions between them.

Can you give an example of such actions?

We’ve been thinking: why should we have five different meetings in monitoring and compliance when the same people are attending the same meetings on the same subject? So why don’t we have a harmonization of this action and set up common rules and guidelines that all tuna RFMOs will be obliged to follow. This could also happen to the scientific commission’s meeting, which was an input from the United States in the preliminary meeting in Rome.

What about the performance reviews that some RFMOs were subjected to? Will they result in any harmonized action?

Yes, that was a request of many participants two weeks ago and also is the EC’s idea to base our next action on the performance reviews - which at least three of the five tuna RFMOs had completed recently. We want to identify common weakness for common actions. So, again, the main topics of this first workshop would be a follow up of what has been done after Kobi’s meeting and what can be done in the future.

What about the second workshop proposed by the European Commission?

Well, the second workshop is more of a “hot” issue. We’ve put it on the table under the consideration of the others and everyone was more or less in agreement. We want to address fishing capacity in the meeting, which means how to deal with over-capacity in relation to the state of the tuna stocks and to the economy of developing countries. I mean capacity as tuna fishing fleets.

Can you disclose the European Commission’s opinion on that?

We are still developing how to approach this sensitive issue, we will probably be providing documents to drive the discussion, but our ideas are not a secret. We have this situation of over-capacity and need to decide how to deal with it, which means reduction; especially considering the state of tuna resources all over the world. In addition, as I said before, we need to consider the aspirations of the developing countries.

When you say reductions, do you mean on a global basis or only in Europe?

Global, everything in the meeting will be approached as a global action.

What about the aspirations of the developing countries to expand their fleet?

If you want to manage the over capacity there’s no need to be an expert to realize that if you want to keep tuna fishing a sustainable activity, you’ll have to increase on one side and reduce on the other side. How to do that? We’ve been thinking about the payback scheme for example. We are still developing the actions for this matter, so maybe I shouldn’t tell you too much in advance since it’s not certain it will make it to the final document of the meeting, but there are not that many options. Our position is, and that’s the position of at least part of the European tuna sector, that you have to address the issue of the developing states but at the same time expanding the fleet of developed states is non-sense. Unfortunately that’s still happening in the world, like in the United States for instance, which has been building forty vessels in the western pacific. I would like to see the NGOs and associations knocking on the U.S. door instead of our doors, which is normally not the case. It looks like we are the bad guys and they are the good ones, and it’s not always like this.

The Spanish fleet has also expanded.

Yes, I’m not saying that all European tuna fishing sector is on our side, but we have part of them. So now it’s the opportunity to address the capacity issue in San Sebastian. In addition, the reaction in Rome was quite good. The Japanese showed themselves quite available to talk about it, of course they insisted in purse seiner’s capacity reduction and not longliners. The U.S. representatives were also quite available. I got a strange reaction from Brazil though; the representative from the country intervened at least twice questioning the necessity of having a workshop in that matter. I didn’t understand why, I mean, if someone should have a problem with this issue it should be us, the EC, and we are proposing it.

Wasn’t the representative of Brazil Mr. Fabio Hazin, Chairman of ICCAT?

Yes, I don’t really understand why, maybe he was being ICCAT orientated. But the general reaction was good.

What are the actions that can increase RFMO’s member countries’ compliance?

Compliance is only one of the issues. We have data collection, scientific issues. The idea is to first increase the harmonization of the work, we don’t see any sense in having separated exercises in each tuna RFMO, and I know many organizations have said this before, but we are thinking about operational actions. We are still on draft phase for that, but we want to implement common working groups in various issues for all the RFMOs. We want to leave San Sebastian with an agreement on that, in actions that can lead for common guidelines in the future.

And what are your expectations on that? Did you feel from the preliminary meeting that the RFMOs are willing to work together?

I cannot predict for sure, but we need to try to be a little ambitious. I know it involves resources such as time and money, but I imagine that at least the three RFMOs that subjected themselves to a performance review will want to use that. We can explore those reports and in my personal opinion there’s a lot of room for improvement.

Would it be a voluntary action or is the EC thinking of presenting the common groups as something binding?

In our opinion there’s no other choice but to work together. Some of the RFMOs are more performing and some are less. If you want to be ambitious, you set the line at the best level you can achieve. I’m thinking about how the ICCAT carries out their scientific work, which could be in my experience a little bit latent from what they have on IATTC and IOTC, for example. I’m not a scientist, but I’ve been dealing with tuna RFMOs for years and I find it strange that we are talking about the same stocks and cannot come up with a general approach in all RFMOs.

Do you think that the decision-making process of the tuna RFMOs will be discussed at the meeting?

I think so, because that was one of the issues pointed out in the performance reviews. We’ve been pushing to change from consensus to majority voting procedure on RFMOs. Sometimes consensus undermine the effectiveness of those organizations since it gives their members veto power.

Will there be any pressure on the RFMOs that haven’t completed a performance review to do so?

Absolutely. I know that IATTC is working on that, I’m not aware of the situation on WCPFC.