Failure to act on ambition

As experienced and successful politicians, ministers are adept at obfuscation; the Teflon characteristics that Bertie Ahern was celebrated for. So how to respond to a minister responsible for fisheries when he asserts that, “the state of fish stocks generally is improving”, as if he is an innocent observer, while ministers continue to set fishing limits above scientific advice, 38 out of 62 assessed stocks are outside safe biological limits, and it is not known how many stocks have actually been restored to healthy levels? For the duration of the present government this minister has held responsibility for fisheries, yet in this time the rate of EU overfishing has even increased. So does “generally improving” resonate as a reasonable response?

He goes onto reiterate “his commitment that all fish stocks should reach the target of maximum sustainable yield (MSY) by 2020”. But this is not what the legislation, which he was pivotal in negotiating as chair of the EU Presidency in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy in 2013, states. The law is unequivocal on this:

“In order to reach the objective of progressively restoring and maintaining populations of fish stocks above biomass levels capable of producing maximum sustainable yield, the maximum sustainable yield exploitation rate shall be achieved by 2015 where possible and, on a progressive, incremental basis at the latest by 2020 for all stocks.”

“…at the latest by 2020 …”, there is no “should” in there, and there is clear reference to ‘above biomass levels’.

Is this being pedantic?

Not really. This is not about semantics, this is about the very real issue of reversing over thirty years of legislated overfishing and rebuilding fish stocks, and so that the health of marine ecosystems and the viability of dependent communities is restored. It is almost Kafkaesque that environmental NGOs are advocating, and being derided, for a position which seeks to improve the situation for the catching sector.

So why do ministers lack the conviction to realise ambitions they previously demonstrated?

Politicians navigate a delicate tightrope of raising just enough positive profile to get re-elected versus the risk of taking on bold action which exposes them to failure or undue criticism – see references to James Reilly and lightning-rods. The result is they tend to crowd the middle ground out of fear of exposure, talking the talk of progression and change while seeking to do avoid disharmony.

There are rare, or notable, occasions when buoyed by public support or concern, they take on bold action. This was clearly the case in May 2013 when the representatives of the European Parliament and EU fisheries ministers agreed to an historic reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. However, as public interest moves on, as inevitably it does, then the politicians retreat back to talking the talk, while avoiding the corresponding walk.

Simply put, take them by the hand and walk with them. As stated in the successful OCEAN2012 animation, “citizens have responsibility in supporting and encouraging their politicians”. So if the words by the minister above, which undermine what he agreed to in 2013, frustrate or even annoy you, ask yourself, what have you done over the past year, to walk with him?

Encourage our Minister Simon Coveney on Twitter .@simoncoveney Don’t delay delivering CFP ambition #CFPreality

BirdWatch Ireland Marine Policy

Reposted with permission from BirdWatch Ireland. Read their blog here.

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