Under the Cypriot Presidency of the EU, the Council has agreed to the “Limassol Declaration” – purportedly to lay the foundations for a maritime agenda for growth and jobs, with a focus on the blue economy.
“Blue growth”, is defined as “smart, sustainable and inclusive economic and employment growth from the oceans, seas and coasts”, by its proponents. Maria Damanaki, Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has used the catchphrase repeatedly during her term in office and argues that “the blue economy presents opportunities for sustainable economic growth both in established and emerging marine and maritime sectors.” With the Declaration now in place, officials hope it will become a central element in the EU’s Integrated Maritime Policy.
Given the financial crisis and insolvency of several EU Member State treasuries, the claim that 1.6 million extra jobs will be generated by 2020, along with an additional 100 billion euros of revenue is attractive. In the Declaration, five areas where additional effort at an EU level can stimulate long-term growth and jobs in the blue economy are given, one of which is aquaculture.
Within discussions over the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, it has become evident that a majority of Member States are calling for a significant increase in subsidies to the fish farming industry. Commissioner Damanaki also supports this move as a way of reducing import dependency on fishery products. However, critics have argued that these subsidies will create the same overcapacities in aquaculture that characterise segments of the catching industry. Moreover, with the majority of EU fish stocks still overfished, feed fisheries which are necessary for fish farming will come under unsustainable pressure.
Given such overcapacities, which have long been criticised by a range of institutions and fisheries stakeholders, text in the Declaration stating the need to “maximise opportunities for innovation in the European shipbuilding…industry in order to improve the environmental performance of ships”, is to be treated with caution. While the Declaration covers a wider scope than fisheries, the current debate over the reform of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund in both Council and European Parliament indicates that the economic costs of vessel and engine subsidies are not well appreciated. Given the depleted nature of European fish stocks and level of overcapacity, subsidies which enable vessels to catch more should be discouraged, even if they make a vessel more fuel efficient.
On a positive note, the Declaration calls for “the effective implementation of the obligations of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive”, so as to achieve good environmental status of marine waters by 2020. This Directive contains specific targets for fish stock recovery and habitat protection, which if implemented, will enable the fishing industry to catch fish with less effort.