By Lewis Smith
Fifteen countries have made a “historic” pledge to protect fish populations in the heavily overfished Mediterranean Sea.
The promise was described as a “blueprint for sustainable” management of the region where 90 per cent of fish stocks are overfished.
Signatories have pledged to end illegal fishing in the Mediterranean by 2020 and to set ambitious management plans to control catches and halt the decline of fish such as hake, blue whiting and red mullet.
Getting the agreement of 15 Mediterranean countries, including Algeria, Tunisia and Egypt, is regarded as unprecedented for a region where fisheries management has been bedevilled by a failure at government level for countries to cooperate.
“Today we are making history,” declared Carmen Vella, the European Union’s fisheries commissioner, after agreement was reached at a summit in Malta organised by the European Commission.
“In signing the Malta MedFish4Ever Declaration, we are affirming our political will to deliver tangible action: on fisheries and other activities that have an impact on fisheries resources, on the blue economy, on social inclusion, and on solidarity between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean.
“I hope that this declaration will come to be seen as a turning point – for a bright future for fishermen, coastal communities and fishing resources alike.”
Conservationists hailed the pledge as a huge step forward for fisheries management in the Mediterranean.
Lasse Gustavsson, of campaign group Oceana, said: “This Declaration really is one for the history books. There is finally a political commitment to sort out Mediterranean fisheries once and for all.
“Rebuilding Mediterranean fish stocks and managing them sustainably will bring back fish to the Mediterranean Sea, where the potential for more food, more jobs and economic growth is massive. We trust that governments are serious and that they will take initiative and action to match the challenge.”
Dr. Giuseppe Di Carlo, Director of the WWF Mediterranean Marine Initiative said: “Mediterranean fish stocks can no longer be sustained by words and good intentions.
“We need concrete actions, visible along the coasts, at sea and at governance level. The Malta Declaration is the last opportunity to save the Mediterranean fish stocks and guarantee long-term livelihoods for future generations.”
Countries that signed the pledge, including eight European Union members, promised that within three years all fish stocks in the Mediterranean will have scientific assessments to establish how many can be caught sustainably.
It was recognised that with 80 per cent of the 300,000 fishers in the Mediterranean sailing in the under-10m fleet, local economies around the region depend upon fishing.
The countries that have signed the pledge are Spain, France, Italy, Malta, Slovenia, Croatia, Greece and Cyprus from the European Union, along with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Turkey, Albania and Montenegro.
Photo: Striped red mullet in the Mediterranean. Credit: © Oceana/Juan Cuetos