NGOs ‘should shift focus to helping fishermen implement policy’

March 28, 2013, 12:42 pm

After playing a significant role in common fisheries policy (CFP) reform, environmental campaign groups should now put their resources into working with fishermen, industry expert Mogens Schou told Undercurrent News.

CFP reform was in large part initiated by NGOs, who still have a role to play according to Schou, the former Danish ministers’ adviser for fisheries and aquaculture, and current chair of the EU Commission’s standing committee on agricultural research for fish.

“One result [of the CFP] is a disruptive change in management, and for that to work you have to move from lobbying in the corridors of the EU to implementing at sea,” he said.

“For reform to work in the common interest and reach full potential, the NGOs should change financial resources from lobbying to helping fishermen implement new policy.”

He pointed to the WWF as an example of an NGO which, in some EU member states, has adopted this constructive approach, before describing the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) as the NGO which has most strongly embarked on this course.

EDF has found that the most successful way of working towards fishery management is by consulting fishermen in a participatory process, Britt Groosman, program director for EDF in the EU, told Undercurrent.

“The way to find that out is to talk to all the stakeholders and see what everyone's concerns are, to try and find a way to get environmental improvement with the buy-in of all the stakeholders involved,” she said.

“Because the more you impose your will on people the more you'll end up with control issues. People don't like being told what to do and they'll try to get around rules.”

The fishermen are the people who implement the policy on the water, and have the real influence, she said.

EDF is relatively new to operating in the EU, and currently works on the ground in Sweden, Spain and the UK.

It acts as a bridge between the fishermen and Brussels, said Groosman, taking the ideas of the fishermen to the policy makers to find the solutions best for everybody – with a focus on keeping the management flexible and not imposing too many rules which apply across every fishery without consideration of differences.


EDF's work with companies such as McDonald's and FedEx means it is used to finding the 'win-win' situation – the solution which helps the environment and improves the bottom line for those involved.

“Very often it works well, because it's energy efficient requirements, which just save money,” Groosman pointed out.

“What we do is often one of two things: either a voluntary change, in which case you're going to have to find that win-win because they're not going to do it if it negatively influences their bottom line.”

“Or, if it's a regulation, it becomes 'look, you have to reach this target, let's try and find the best, cheapest and most efficient way for you to reach it.'”

CFP reform is going to see quite strict environmental controls, so the task for EDF will be to work with fisheries and governments on the framework within which fishermen have to work, she said.

Every fishery goes into this process with different goals, said Groosman, pointing to the criticism which the Danish individual transferable quota fishery received.

“It was criticised for the job losses that came with its concentration, but that was the goal of that fishery's change. The government wanted to reduce capacity,” she said.

“Every fishery's different and every one will have different targets, social and economic. Right now Brussels is setting the environmental targets – it will be up to the fishery managers to determine the social and economic targets, and often there'll be conflict there. That's why the stakeholder process is so important, to ensure transparency.”

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