Driving sustainable change in the Mediterranean: MedFish4Ever Conference ramps up commitments for the future of fisheries and aquaculture

A high-level event on fisheries and aquaculture that closed today has brought us a step closer to a future where sustainability – environmental, economic and social – will drive the development of the sector in the Mediterranean.


The MedFish4Ever Conference brought together high-level officials, fishers, fish farmers, scientists, managers, civil society organizations and other experts to survey the state of the vital fisheries and aquaculture sector and agree on transformative new actions towards a sustainable future. Senior government officials from 20 countries were in attendance.


The event, hosted by the Government of Malta and organized by the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) together with the European Union, focused on the progress that has been made and the need for new solutions to address the challenges that have emerged since the signing of the 2017 MedFish4Ever Ministerial Declaration. This landmark regional agreement between Mediterranean countries set a ten-year vision towards the sustainability and welfare of the fisheries and aquaculture sector, as well as the conservation of Mediterranean precious marine ecosystems and the services they provide.


In his address to representatives, GFCM Chairperson Roland Kristo emphasized the need for ongoing engagement from all parties: "The MedFish4Ever Declaration laid the foundation for progress, but it is imperative that signatories and stakeholders continue to work together. The future success of this sector hinges on our collective dedication and vision for a prosperous, equitable, and sustainable future.


As presented at the Conference, there has been considerable progress made over the last six years in both capture fisheries and aquaculture, the latter boosted in particular by the introduction of national strategies and the launch of Aquaculture Demonstration Centres. In fisheries, enhanced collaboration between countries has led to a regional governance whereby key fisheries are effectively managed, including thanks to an increasing culture of compliance. Attendees at the Conference reflected on how science-based management plans have transformed the sustainability of some key commercial stocks, how monitoring, surveillance and enforcement practices have been strengthened, and how these advances have reverted previously negative trends in overfishing.


They also discussed the increasing efforts to protect vulnerable species and ecosystems and those underway to redress the age and gender imbalances that hamper current workforces. Indeed, as Charlina Vitcheva, Director General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission commented, "Together we should ensure the protection of Mediterranean ecosystems, secure their services and the livelihoods they sustain for coastal communities and future generations, including thanks to the fisheries and aquaculture sector, and address any illegal activities in the sector, reinforcing the culture of compliance."


Transformative actions to address new challenges

While the achievements of the last six years are worth celebrating, the discussions focused on how to ensure that all goals of the Declaration are fully met and how we can best prepare for the future.


Fisheries and aquaculture play an integral role in Mediterranean society. They are worth USD 8 billion to the regional economy each year, providing employment for some 700 000 people along the value chain and contributing to the food security and nutrition of millions. But the sector faces a myriad of growing challenges, including overfishing, habitat degradation, chemical and plastic pollution, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities, and the existential threat of climate change. Capture fisheries are declining in productivity, and regional aquaculture production is not yet close to reaching its full potential. Transformative, science-based responses are needed to ensure a sustainable future – and that's what the MedFish4Ever Conference has been focusing on, with support for regional innovation in research and technology as a core part of the solution.


"While we acknowledge that the challenges before us are substantial, we must also recognize the ample opportunities for transformative change within our grasp," said Anton Refalo, Malta's Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Animal Rights. "I The MedFish4Ever Declaration stands as a cornerstone of our collective efforts and joint commitment towards more sustainable fisheries.."  


On the first evening, participants gathered for the MedFish4Ever Awards to recognize outstanding innovation in the fields of fishing technology, aquaculture, and the fight against IUU fishing. Initiatives from Croatia, Cyprus, Morocco, Spain, Tunisia and Global Fishing Watch won plaudits from the judges, who praised the quality of research and development taking place in fisheries and aquaculture alike and called for increased efforts to scale up the roll-out of successful innovations.


The Mediterranean: a laboratory for the rest of the world

What's more, the advances made here will make a difference on a global scale. The nations of the Mediterranean, one of the most heavily exploited seas in the world, are gaining experience addressing the most pressing challenges facing us today, and the sea's unique position allows it to serve as a laboratory of solutions for other seas and oceans. The innovative approaches framed in Malta will provide valuable templates to address similar issues worldwide in the drive for long-term sustainability in fisheries and aquaculture operations.

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