1. Global negotiations at the UN in New York were concluded on the landmark Treaty of the High Seas to protect the ocean, tackle environmental degradation, fight climate change, and prevent biodiversity loss (known as the Biodiversity Beyond National Jurisdiction - BBNJ Treaty). This provides for establishing large-scale marine protected areas on the high seas, with a view to protecting biodiversity and meeting the commitment of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Agreement concluded last December to protect at least 30% of the ocean by 2030. The Treaty will also require, for the first time ever, those engaging in economic activities on the high seas to assess the impact of biodiversity. Developing countries will be supported in their implementation of the new treaty by a capacity-building and marine technology transfer component, funded from a variety of public and private sources and by an equitable mechanism for sharing the potential benefits of marine genetic resources. The Treaty is result of more than a decade of a decade of global engagement by a coalition of interested states, including the EU, to find solutions for the crucial global environmental issue of sustainable oceans on the high seas.
2. The EU supported the 8th "Our Ocean" Conference held in Panama. It used the occasion to announce 39 commitments for action on ocean governance with an overall budget of EUR816.5 million to address Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), marine pollution, climate change, sustainable fisheries, sustainable blue economies, and maritime security. Some of the actions include: EUR320 million for ocean research to protect marine biodiversity and address the impacts of climate change; EUR12 million for a Copernicus Regional Centre based in Panama; EUR250 million for renewal of its satellite constellation with the launch of Sentinel-1C, for Arctic surveillance; EUR126 million to protect biodiversity and fight climate change in Benin, Guyana, and Tanzania; EUR24 million for actions to support Regional Fisheries Management Organisations (RFMOs; and EUR 1 million to the WTO funding mechanism on fisheries subsidies. In addition, the EU also announced that it will join the Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing Action Alliance launched by the US, Canada and UK.
3. Canada, United Kingdom and the United States announced the founding of a new partnership, the IUU Fishing Action Alliance, to stimulate ambition and action in the fight against illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. The alliance, which is open to all countries, will work to support the effective regulation and sustainable management of fisheries in all parts of the oceans, including through the Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMOs) in which they participate. The IUU-AA will also work to improve data collection on harmful fishing practices related to IUU fishing, including labour abuses in the seafood supply chain.
4. The EU and Norway signed three annual bilateral fisheries agreements which provide for quotas on shared stocks in the Skagerrak and the Kattegat. They also agreed on a balanced exchange of quotas, and reciprocal access to North Sea waters for fishers. The parties agreed to reduce the herring catches in the Skagerrak and the North Sea to protect the Western Baltic herring stock. Among other stocks, the EU will receive 9,150 tonnes of Arctic cod for 2023, while transferring 74,000 tonnes of blue whiting to Norway.
5. Members of the European Parliament on the PECH Fisheries Committee proposed a draft resolution on fisheries co-management. The proposal notes that in general, fisheries are managed through a state-centred approach, which is focused on large-scale fisheries but not valid for small-scale operators. MEPs are calling for changes to EU regulations and structural funding under EMFAF to ensure that more funds are directed for fisheries co-management, with clearer regulatory focus on engagement of fishing communities in fisheries co-management.
6. The EU authorised the signing of the Fisheries Agreement between the EU and Seychelles, which grants access for Seychelles fishing vessels to the EU waters of Mayotte, and which was agreed and initialled by the parties on 10 June 2022. The Agreement provides for fishing opportunities for 8 tuna purse-seiners and their support vessels, and sets out the access conditions, including licences, fees and reporting obligations. The Agreement is to be applied provisionally upon its signature and until ratification.
7. The Commission has adopted revised Guidelines for State Aid in the fishery and aquaculture sector. These set out the conditions under which State Aid granted by EU Member States to support the fisheries and aquaculture sectors may be considered compatible with the Single Market and avoid undermining the Common Fisheries Policy. The new State aid rules provide for: (i) a broader scope of measures targeting animal diseases in aquaculture, allowing for aid to be granted for emerging animal diseases and management of invasive alien species; (ii)new categories of aid, such as aid for fleet and cessation measures (in line with EMFAF) and aid for investments in equipment that contributes to safety of fishing vessels in the Union's Outermost Regions. The new Guidelines were endorsed by the Commission in December 2022 and will be applicable from 1 April 2023.
8. The European Commission has approved the EUR20 million programme of support measures proposed by Slovakia for financing under the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund 2021-2027. 10% of the programme's allocation will be dedicated to sustainable fisheries and 83% will be invested in sustainable aquaculture and in processing and marketing.
9. The EU adopted new conservation and management rules for southern bluefin tuna stocks, following the adoption of new measures regarding vessel record keeping, tagging and trade by the Convention for the Conservation of Southern Bluefin Tuna in 2020. The measure was adopted even though EU vessels do not target this species and make only incidental catches. The EU also delegated regulatory powers to the Commission to align with future CCSBT measures.
10. The European Commission and the High Representative issued a joint communication to the Council and Parliament on the update of the EU Maritime Security Strategy and its Action Plan "An enhanced EU Maritime Security Strategy for evolving maritime threats". The Communication sets out an update to the EU Maritime Security Strategy (originally adopted in 2014) and is aimed at safeguarding the maritime domain and ensuring a peaceful use of the seas. Six strategic objectives will address stepping up activities at sea, enhanced cooperation with partners (including NATO), leading on maritime domain awareness, managing risks and threats, boosting capabilities (including stepping up work on new classes of warship such as the European Patrol Corvette), and education and training in hybrid and cyber security qualifications, notably on the civilian side. The associated Maritime Action Plan provides a raft of measures for countering emerging threats of geopolitical competition, climate change, degradation of the marine environment and hybrid and cyber-attacks. The Commission published a poster factsheet providing key facts and figures concerning EU maritime security and the EU's approach to its management.
11. The European Parliament published the results of a policy research study for the PECH Committee entitled "The future of EU algae sector". The study examines the EU Algae Initiative of the European Commission and gives an overview of the European algae sector in terms of production, applications, opportunities and barriers to further development. Key barriers hampering the macroalgae sector are sustainability issues with wild harvesting, high production costs and a limited market demand. In the microalgae sector the main limiting factors are limited capacity of existing reactors, high production costs, and administrative barriers. Overcoming these limitations is recommended to be addressed by a collective effort of policymakers, at Member State and EU level, as well as industry stakeholders, scientific community, and administrators.
12. The European Market Observatory for Fisheries and Aquaculture Products published its latest edition of 2023, containing articles on grooved carpet shell (Italy, Portugal, Spain) and smooth callista (Italy, Portugal, Spain), consumption of halibut in Denmark and Sweden and a case study on fisheries and processing in China.
13. The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries publicised a Finnish project funded under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund which identified the sources and quantities of marine litter in the Finnish marine environment. The study identified mechanisms on marine littering, with a view to proposing means to reduce marine litter at source. The project was coordinated by the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) and run together with the Natural Resources Centre (LUKE) and the Finnish Transport and Communications Agency (Traficom).
14. The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries announced that a project implemented by a team of scientists from the MERClub Consortium, coordinated by AZTI in Spain is investigating a new technology to remove mercury in marine sediments. The project, financed by EMFAF has successfully isolated promising microbial candidates capable of detoxifying mercury (Hg) in vitro, and is now progressing to field testing of bioremediation in affected marine sediments.
15. The Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries of the European Commission has announced that the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund is supporting a new project, the Atlantic Smart Ports Blue Acceleration Network (AspBAN), aimed at transforming EU Atlantic ports into blue economy hubs. The project's participants include 40 ports in Portugal, Spain, France, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and the USA. The project aims to mobilise investment finance (including from financial entities such as BlueInvest, the European Investment Bank and the Dubai Ports World) to promote the adoption and dissemination of innovative technologies. The project will focus on reduced carbon emissions, increased use of digital technology and circular economic activities within the wider blue economy with a view to repositioning the role of ports and their business models.
16. The Commission's Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries used the occasion of BlueInvest Day 2023 to issue a report entitled "An Ocean of Opportunities" which addresses investment activities and opportunities in the EU blue economy. The report, aimed at investors, features key new technologies and a sample of investment-ready companies across 10 sectors of the sustainable blue economy from the BlueInvest pipeline. The report aims to further mobilise private capital for clean tech in the blue economy, including solutions that can help fight climate change and support the objectives of the EU Green Deal. It points out that the ocean economy is projected to grow over the coming decade, and that there is a growing interest of investors, with 76 out of 87 surveyed planning to invest an average of EUR124.5 million in the blue economy by 2030. Despite this level of interest, the report considers that there is still a big financing gap for start-ups and SMEs in the blue economy, due to perceptions of high risk, a lack of investment-grade projects at scale, as well as a lack of awareness and technical knowledge of the emerging blue economy sectors and concrete investment opportunities.
17. The first fund under the new InvestEU Blue Economy instrument, focusing on southern Europe, was allocated, in the form of the Growth Blue I fund. This will focus on investment in SMEs and small Mid Caps primarily from Portugal and Spain. The fund is financed with EUR28 million from national public resources through Fundo Azul, the European Investment Fund (EIF) and the InvestEU Blue Economy instrument. It aims to support the growth and internationalisation of mature blue economy companies with a focus on investments to strengthen sustainability, adapt to climate change and explore new blue economy opportunities. The Fund aims at investing in 8 to 12 companies with equity and quasi-equity tickets above EUR1.5m. The fund has a broad sectoral focus with a preference for companies operating in the value chain of seafood, offshore energy, shipping, ports and blue biotechnology with projects contributing to decarbonisation, reducing ocean contamination and conservation of marine ecosystems.
18. The Commission announced that registration is now open for EU Maritime Day 2023 to be held in Brest on 24 &25 May. Up to 1,500 participants will be able to attend in person and take part in interactive workshops, pitching sessions and networking opportunities. The opening and first high-level sessions will be available remotely. Exhibitors requiring a stand should register by 5 April 2023 and attendees by 19 May 2023.
19. During March 2023 there were 49 rapid alert notifications for fishery products. There were 20 rapid alert notifications for bivalve mollusc products, 9 rapid alert notifications for crustacean products, 20 rapid alert notifications for other fishery products and no rapid alert notifications for cephalopod and gastropod products. These included 11 consignments of oysters from France, 2 consignments of clams from Italy, 3 consignments of shrimp from Ecuador, 3 consignments of tuna from the USA and 2 consignments of swordfish from Spain.
20. DG SANTÉ of the European Commission published a report on a remote assessment carried out of Australia from September to December 2022 to evaluate the control systems in place governing the production of fishery products intended for export to the European union. The assessment established that Australia has in place a sound legal framework, and robust competent authority structure and legal powers, thus allowing the implementation of a control system to support exports of fishery products to the EU. However, some shortcomings were identified; in particular the Competent Authority had not established an official control programme for all the required parameters set out in EU Regulation No 2019/627 and relied exclusively on the own checks carried out by fishery business operators. Additionally, the use of alternative testing methods for histamine analysis was found to be not in line with the EU reference method. The Competent Authority, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) of Australia submitted an action plan addressing the observed deficiencies.
21. DG SANTÉ of the European Commission published a report on an audit carried out in Mauritius in September 2022 to evaluate whether official controls guaranteed that the sanitary conditions for fishery products exported to the European Union were in line with the requirements. The audit also followed up on the action plan adopted following a previous audit in 2014. The audit found that there were several shortcomings. The legal framework did not reflect the EU requirements in respect of the prohibition on the 'dual use' of fish holds, requirements equipment and conditions on freezer vessels and the limitations on the use of brine frozen fish only for canning (where it found that large tunas were subject to two-stage freezing, in brine and dry holds). There was also weak enforcement in some cases of non-compliance identified, and the CA capacity was found to be compromised by a frequent turnover of inspectors, and practices that may affect their independence and impartiality. Gaps in the official certification procedure and operator practices also weakened the confidence in the health certification. Measures put in place by the Competent Authority, the Ministry of Blue Economy, Marine Resources, Fisheries and Shipping, had not thoroughly addressed recommendations made in the previous report. The Mauritius Competent Authority responded with an action plan, but noted that two stage freezing of tunas not intended for canning was also practiced on EU flagged vessels of the same design (and owned by the same operator), which were approved by the Member State CA, implying a different interpretation in the enforcement of EU rules.
22. DG SANTÉ of the European Commission published a report on a remote audit of the Philippines carried out in June 2022 in order to evaluate the control systems control systems in place governing the production of fishery products intended for export to the European Union. The assessment noted that the legal framework was outdated with an overlapping competence for food safety in fishery products establishments, with a resulting negative impact on controls and responses to iRASFF alerts. Legislation also omitted controls on establishments including cold stores in the supply chain and the prohibition of dual use holds (brine and fuel) in freezer vessels. Combined with weak enforcement and non-timely follow-up in cases of non-compliance, incomplete coverage of EU requirements for official checks on fishery products, and gaps in the certification procedures, these deficiencies were considered to render the Competent Authority, the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources incapable of providing reliable guarantees as required in the official export certification process. The Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources responded to the report with a guarantee to implement a plan of corrective actions, subsequently accepted by the Commission.
23. DG SANTÉ of the European Commission published a report on a remote carried out in October 2022 to evaluate official controls for the export of fishery products from Uganda to the EU. The audit found that there were exemplary controls ensuring full traceability and compliant hygiene standards throughout processing and the dispatch for export. However, the system's effectiveness was compromised by certain shortcomings in maintenance of the cold chain (frozen fishery products were observed transported without refrigeration) and out of date and poor proficiency testing results from the private laboratory assigned for official analyses. The Competent Authority, the Directorate of Fisheries Resources submitted a plan of corrective actions, subsequently accepted by the Commission.
24. The European Commission's Joint Research Centre published a Technical Report (in collaborations with DG SANTE of the European Commission) on "Fighting fraudulent and deceptive practices in the agri-food chain", which addresses, inter-alia the issue of fraud in the supply chain of fish and fishery products. The report emphasises the importance of special fraud investigation units within Competent Authorities and calls for specific training of Competent Authority inspectors on fraud detection and control. It notes that in some Member States the food safety authorities perform the checks on marketing standards, in others the responsibility lies with other authorities. In the latter case, weak cooperation between the food safety and marketing standard control authorities may undermine the detection and follow-up of fraudulent practices. It also identifies the need to raise awareness of the risk of fraud and its business impacts with regard to smaller and medium size companies e.g. when buying products that are at a price below market value, from sources that are not reliable and do not allow to trace back the product.
25. The EU's Food Fraud Newsletter for February 2023 included reports from Italy (where the authorities seized 2 tonnes of illegally fished sardines, 1.1 tonnes of illegally fished tuna and 1.5 tonnes of mussels without traceability documentation) and from Argentina where the authorities seized 6 tons of shellfish without any documentation.
26. EFSA published a public health risk assessment related to the presence of nitrosamines in food, following a request from the Commission. Ten nitrosamines identified are carcinogenic (can cause cancer) and genotoxic (may damage DNA) and are found in many foods, including processed fish and fishery products (including oils). Based on evidence from studies in rats, the study concludes that for all age groups across the EU population, the level of exposure to nitrosamines in food raises a health concern. The European Commission will discuss with national authorities as to the risk management measures to be considered.
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