I like the new Fisheries Commissioner, and after her presentation to the European Parliament’s Environment Committee a week ago (28 September) I guess I am not alone.
Maria Damanaki is Greek, has been a socialist Member of Parliament in her country for many years, and arrived in Brussels knowing next to nothing about fisheries policy. But she is no fool. Nor is she without courage; as a student she was a radio voice of liberation who was tortured for her views by the dictatorship of the time.
I had asked that she speak to the committee about her plans for reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. I hoped that its ‘greenish’ tinge would strengthen her convictions, counter balancing the less ambitious views of the Fisheries Committee with whom she normally works.
She did not disappoint.
“The proposals I make next year will be ambitious. If we lose this opportunity there will be no future for fishing," she said.
"We cannot ignore the scientific advice any more. 80% of EU fish stocks are not healthy. We need root and branch reform.
“We cannot continue to give money to fishermen to throw fish back in the sea, dead. (Discards) are unacceptable. Money should be used instead to provide help with storage and market intelligence.
“Small scale fisheries are the most sustainable and provide economic opportunities for coastal areas. We want to support them while controlling industrial fishing. The owners of the big boats take most of the fish and have the loudest voices, but they employ few people.
“I do not have many allies among the EU’s governments. Fisheries ministers are not generally supportive of radical change. There will be a hostile reaction to change. The Commission has tried to achieve radical reform in the past and twice has failed. I need help.”
My number one political objective is to make sure that she gets it.