Small-scale Fisheries Making a Splash Across the Pond

Guest Contribution from Katie Schleit

Growing up in Southwest Nova Scotia, I’ve always known that healthy fisheries are essential to small communities in Atlantic Canada. For the last eight years, I’ve worked on fisheries policy internationally. Now that I’m back living and working here, I’m worried that Canadian policies for small-scale fisheries are not sufficient or keeping pace with the rest of the world.

There are big changes in the works for small-scale fisheries just across the pond. The European Commission is reforming its Common Fisheries Policy– a process that has the potential to formally recognize the triple bottom line (people, planet and profit) with regards to small-scale fisheries.

European Union Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) Reform: A Grand Vision for Small-scale Fisheries

The European Commission’s Common Fisheries Policy reform began in order to address the changing conditions in EU fisheries and the realization that what they are doing now is not working.

EU Fishing Quotas Action in Brussels Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.

EU Fishing Quotas Action in Brussels
Photo courtesy of Greenpeace.

In 2010, the European Parliament adopted a resolution on the Green Paper outlining a vision statement for European fisheries by 2020 that separates the small-scale fisheries sector from that of the industrial. Not only that, it outlines the social, economic and community benefits and speaks of a fully transparent marketing chain. In one section, the vision states:

At the other end of the spectrum [from that of the industrial fleet], small-scale fisheries continue to produce high value fresh fish consumed locally and marketed under labels of quality and origin that give higher value to fishermen. The ever increasing proportion of Europeans living along the continent’s coasts represents a growing demand for high-quality, locally produced food. Their work has also become much more integrated with other economic sectors which are key to coastal communities. Throughout the sector, the production and marketing chain offers full transparency to authorities and consumers on the origin of raw materials “from net to plate.”

Wouldn’t it be grand if our government had that kind of vision for small-scale fisheries and transparent value-chains in Canada?

Scale Matters: Quality Counts

In spite of this vision, the reform process in the EU has not been smooth sailing for small-scale fisheries advocates.

Beate Gminder, Head of Unit for Maritime Policy, European Commission DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries

Beate Gminder, Head of Unit for Maritime Policy, European Commission DG Maritime Affairs and Fisheries. Photo courtesy of WikiCommons.

On October 10, 2012 an alliance of small-scale fishing representatives, researchers and NGOs from across Europe released the “Scale Matters; Quality Counts” (SMQC) declaration. It was drafted in response to the DG Mare (Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries) proposals for policy reform. The alliance requested that the proposed mandatory Transferable Fishing Concessions (TFCs)- these are like ITQs or catch shares- be applied only to vessels over 12 metres and not to small- scale fishing activities. They want to see those who fish in the most sustainably ways treated differently than industrial fleets.

 The CFP reform is still currently under negotiation, including even the definition of small-scale fisheries. But the momentum is brewing. The agreed negotiating position of the European Parliament contains requirements on priority access for operators fishing in socially and environmental sustainably ways and exemptions from a TFC/ITQ system for vessels under 12 meters.

The battle is not won, but European small-scale fishers are now one step closer to having a policy backing that sets them apart from industrial fleets.

Bringing it Home

Listening intently to the translation service.

Moving Forward Together- a gathering of 10,000 Atlantic Canadian Small-scale fishermen.

Momentum is also brewing here in Canada. Small-scale fishers here are also expressing concerns about catch share allocation systems and seeking policies separate from industrial fleets. Similar to the EU, independent fishermen in Atlantic Canada have come together to respond to government plans for ‘modernization’ and have  influenced policy in favor of small operators. As well, there are many examples of projects here that increase the value of local fisheries, add transparency to the marketing chain and connect fishers to consumers through programs like Off the Hook Community Supported Fishery and This Fish.

But, the government of Canada still needs a major overhaul in its vision and practice towards small-scale fisheries. Who fishes and in what way matters for the community and for the environment.  And it should matter to policy makers.

Fisheries are big business for small communities here in Atlantic Canada. But small-scale fisheries need better policies to support them. With an ocean connecting Canada to the European Union, here’s hoping that with enough effort, the winds of change can influence our government as well.

Katie is the Marine Campaign Coordinator for the Ecology Action Centre. An ocean lover, she has traveled to six continents as a marine educator, advocate, researcher and tourist (and she’s determined to get to Antarctica someday)!

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