Countries unite for a sustainable future: progress in Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries and aquaculture management

More than 20 countries and the European Union have adopted 34 measures to ensure the conservation and sustainable use of marine living resources, as well as the sustainable development of aquaculture in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. 


The forty-sixth session of the General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), which closed today in Split, Croatia, was one of the most productive in the organization's history.


The GFCM is the regional fisheries management organization with the authority to make binding recommendations for fisheries and aquaculture development in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. As such, the annual session is a pivotal date in the sector's calendar, and this year it saw representatives of the member countries of the GFCM joined by experts and observers from 12 partner organizations, including Global Fishing Watch, MEDAC, Oceana, OceanCare and WWF.


Every year, recommendations and resolutions are proposed and voted on as GFCM members agree on a workplan for the years to come. All decisions are geared towards putting the long-term future of the region's vital fisheries and aquaculture sector on a sustainable footing.


This year, a total of 34 decisions were unanimously adopted, including 24 binding recommendations, the highest number so far. The proposals centred on three main themes: improving fisheries management, addressing climate and environmental issues in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, and enhancing compliance.

Science-based management continues to grow

Over the last decade, the GFCM has introduced science-based multiannual management plans for key commercial stocks, with a total of 10 now in operation. These plans guide the implementation of measures to achieve and maintain a sustainable exploitation of fishery resources, counteracting overfishing and ensuring high and long-term yields.

"Data from the field show that the plans are making a real difference towards sustainability targets," said Valérie Lainé, head of the fisheries management unit for the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, at the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission. "It's very encouraging to see the impact of our shared efforts."

A series of proposals, based on robust and comprehensive scientific advice from GFCM subsidiary bodies, were adopted in Split to further refine the reach and effectiveness of the plans in operation.

Increased support for environmental measures

Productive fisheries depend on a healthy ocean, and along with the measures aimed directly at commercial fish stocks, a series of recommendations towards minimizing fishery impacts on the wider marine environment were also brought to the negotiating table. A Regional Plan of Action to protect vulnerable species including seabirds, cetaceans and sea turtles was agreed upon; meanwhile, critically endangered species such as European eel and Black Sea sturgeons received increased levels of protection.

Vulnerable marine environments were also in the frame of discussions, with members agreeing on a roadmap for the establishment of a fisheries restricted area to protect the fragile Cabliers coral mounts of the Alboran Sea. And as the world strives to cut greenhouse gas emissions under the Paris Agreement, the GFCM has launched a long-term initiative towards the decarbonization of the regional fishing fleet.

There is an important environmental dimension to aquaculture as well. This topic received particular attention, with proposals emanating from several countries with interest in the sustainable development of the sector. Ensuring that the sector employs environmentally friendly production systems is a key consideration for its ongoing development, and a resolution to launch guidelines supporting the implementation of environmental monitoring programmes across the region received strong backing. Proactive efforts to reduce plastic use and improve sector waste management were also reflected in new decisions.

As they did for the fishing fleet, participants at the session made a series of proposals for the decarbonization of the aquaculture sector, including the promotion of sustainable energy sources, carbon sequestration techniques and low-impact production methods, as well as launching a regional climate adaptation plan to make the sector more resilient to change in a warming world.

Stronger enforcement capabilities

The final area under the spotlight at the forty-sixth session was compliance – that is, ensuring that GFCM decisions are effectively implemented and that member countries meet the commitments they have made for the development and regulation of their fisheries and aquaculture operations. Important milestones were set in many areas, and new tools to ensure a culture of compliance were adopted. Two permanent inspection and surveillance schemes were launched for international waters, while new catch documentation schemes for commercially important Black Sea turbot and Mediterranean red coral will increase accountability and contribute to the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Furthermore, a new mechanism was created to foster a culture of compliance in the region, through the adoption of a key decision that would allow the Compliance Committee to better identify cases of non-compliance, their sources and, most importantly, appropriate follow-up actions to prevent and mitigate them. Strong political commitment was also shown in relation to the establishment of a regional vessel monitoring and controls system.

For GFCM Executive Secretary Miguel Bernal, who marked his first year in the post at the forty-sixth session, the successful adoption of a record number of decisions is something for members to be proud of. "By definition, making plans for the conservation and sustainable use of shared marine resources depends on trust and collaboration between many different stakeholders," he commented. "I'm delighted by the ambitious attitude our members brought to the session this year, coming together to achieve common aims and objectives. I also commend the groundwork laid by countries in our technical advisory bodies: it's their knowledge and expertise that give our members the foundation they need to make more and better decisions about our collective future."

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