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More Economic Evidence to Influence Fisheries' Policy Makers Needed

19 April 2013

UK - The Director-General of DG Mare, European Commission has revealed economists within the EC are finally winning the argument that policy decisions affecting European fisheries need to be based as much on economic evidence as they are on biological concerns.

Lowri Evans said policy makers need to view the fishing industry as an area where many more jobs can be created and profitability improved. She said the economic and social benefits of having a thriving fishing industry should be given just as much consideration as the biology of European fisheries.

And she issued a rallying call to academics, scientists and economists to work with the European Commission to ensure they had the best possible data and analysis available to help them make positive policy reform to help the fishing industry grow.

Speaking at the 21st European Association of Fisheries Economists (EAFE) conference Ms Evans said: "We need to better understand the economics of the fishing sector.

"In the past we were traditionally focused on the biology of fisheries - but sticking to pure biology has its limitations as fishing is an economic activity. The fishing sector must be treated like all other sectors in policy terms, which we can particularly see in this period of economic recession. The context we are working in now is one of enhancing jobs and growth, just as in any other sector of the economy. We are pushing for more jobs and more growth in the fishing sector. But we cannot make policy in a vacuum."

"We need an enormous amount of collaboration with scientists and academia to make sure we have the best possible fact and evidence based analysis available to our policy makers. Each reform proposal we discuss should be accompanied by data on what impact it would have not just on stocks but also on jobs, income and the profitability of the sector as a whole. We want to improve what we are doing, and we need our scientists, economists and academia to provide that research."

Ms Evans told the conference, which was organised by Seafish and is being held at Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh, there were many areas where large amounts of economic research was needed to improve fishing related policy.

She said: "If you look at the issue of over-capacity - we have member states saying to us 'I haven't got over-capacity but there is general over-capacity, although it's my neighbour's problem'. We are at the beginning of breaking that down, but there is still a lot of fog around the issue of capacity management. We need people doing the relevant research to give us the fact based evidence in terms of what the policy should be for the future."

Ms Evans said she wanted to see research carried out on how fishing subsidies impact the fishing sector, and how fishing sustainability levels change the profitability of differing fish sectors.

She said she also wanted to see much greater research carried out on the subject of fishing quotas.

She said: "We are winning the political argument that the setting to TACs and quotas should be science based, and we are trying to make sure that the policy and the implementation of the policy is rooted in a wide base of both social and economic data and that it also relates to the jobs dimension.

"We need a lot more analysis in the areas of how members distribute their quota allocations, as even though this is member state business, it is a key economic and social variable. We want to know how they allocate to small scale fleets compared to large scale fleets? We want to know who benefits in terms of jobs; who gets these jobs and how well paid they are? We also need to know how quota allocation choices can affect incentives and fishing behaviours, for example, in terms of discards."

She added: "It is very important that we move away from having our focus purely on catch, but look also at areas including production and marketing. We want to improve the attractiveness of the sector to bring more young people in. And we will continue the focus on the sustainable development of fishery dependent areas."

Ms Evans said more had to be done to support micro projects, where small numbers of jobs were being created in fishing related communities through innovative business ventures.

She gave examples of a small project in Denmark where four new jobs had been created by the production of a new generation of food made from seaweed, and of a project in Galicia, Spain, where 27 shellfish gatherers had come together to develop new products based on their collection of goose barnacles.

She added: "Job promotion and job growth can come from lots of areas. We know the fishing industry can be suspicious of us, but we are not about to kill the industry. And I hope we can continue the collaboration we have had with EAFE with a view to collectively helping the fishing industry in Europe grow."

Hazel Curtis, Chief Economist at Seafish and President of EAFE, welcomed Ms Evans' keynote address at the conference - which had the theme 'Securing the future: Implementing reform in European Fisheries.

She said: "It is great to hear directly from the Commission exactly what their priorities are. It is good to know the importance they put on having an understanding of the economics of fishing. Getting good outcomes from fishing management means you have to understand the people running the businesses, and how they make their business decisions as fishing is an economic activity. You cannot just understand the fish - you have to understand the fishermen."

She added: "It is good to know that the analysis we are conducting is finding its way into political discussions, and to have clear statements about the policies that need more economic information.

"We are also delighted Ms Evans has said the Commission hopes to continue and to grow its association with EAFE."

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