“Dialogue with stakeholders has proven to be essential for achieving the objectives of the CFP. Taking into account the diverse conditions throughout Union waters and the increased regionalisation of the CFP, Advisory Councils should enable the CFP to benefit from the knowledge and experience of all stakeholders.” (Recital 65 of CFP Basic Regulation)
A little over a week ago, we attended the meeting of the Executive Committee (ExCom) of the Baltic Sea Advisory Council (BSAC) as we had expressed our will to occupy one of the two vacant seats in the ExCom. This plea was not successful as various fisheries representatives expressed their unwillingness to include Oceana. Although we had substantial support from members in the “other interest” group, which is in minority, it seems that the final decision is put forward for deliberation in the General Assembly in the spring. This is correct according to the procedures of the BSAC, but if it comes to voting the end result is quite clear, given the tone of the discussions at the meeting. The discussions made me think about the overall process and who gets to decide who is a legitimate member and who is not, and can the majority group really prevent the minority group from filling out the vacant seats? 60% of the seats are reserved for the industry and 40% for other interest groups, including environmental organizations. Unfortunately the industry side uses its majority power in the BSAC to also influence the composition of the 40% and decide with whom they wish to discuss in ExCom. This is very unfortunate and also very much against the spirit of Advisory Councils (ACs) where it is stated that “Advisory Councils should enable the CFP to benefit from the knowledge and experience of all stakeholders”.
So, it comes to the question whether Oceana can be considered as a legitimate stakeholder? Oceana is an acknowledged actor in a number of other ACs and is also an ExCom member in all of those (Long Distance, South Western Waters and Mediterranean; every other one we have ever applied to). We are also an active player in fisheries management in general and are present in a number of other stakeholder groups, including national, regional and European.
Surely there are also other ways to advocate and discuss fisheries management matters, but as the renewed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) enhanced the role of ACs, it is crucial that all voices are heard in those as well. The Basic Regulation of the CFP lists a number of occasions where ACs are being consulted automatically. So, how is it then guaranteed that all the stakeholders are being heard if some ACs chose to use the majority power to exclude other legitimate stakeholders from the consultation process? This may become a relevant question if ACs are being granted seats in high level groups discussing fisheries management such Baltfish and the Scheveningen group, for instance.
This is all very regrettable because I believe that Oceana and the fishing industry share the same fundamental goal: more fish in the sea for the benefit of the European marine environment, its consumers and coastal communities. We believe that with better and more sustainable fisheries management Baltic, European and global seas would be able to provide much more fish to a larger number of people. To achieve this, we are open to discussion with all relevant stakeholders. Certainly, we have different opinions on how to achieve this, but I am sure that we can learn something from each other by entering into a dialogue on the issue. This is not only our wish, it is also our right.