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© Ante Gugic
Jabuka Pit in Croatia becomes a permanent fishing restricted area

On the occasion of World Fisheries Day, landmark decisions were made at the recent 44th  General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean (GFCM) that have the potential to change the course of Mediterranean fisheries. 

For the first time ever the Mediterranean and Black Sea countries and the EU represented by the GFCM agreed on an unprecedented number of decisions - 21 new binding decisions and 14 resolutions - to support the proper management of stocks, mitigate bycatch, establish Fisheries Restricted Areas (FRAs), combat IUU fishing, reduce ghost gear, and fight invasive fish species.  All these measures represent a crucial contribution to the protection of marine biodiversity and ocean health.

WWF gave important and relevant input to the GFCM 2030 strategy, adopted in July, and we provided the technical advice to governments that turned into binding regulations. 

We particularly commend the ratification of:

•  The Small Pelagics (Anchovies & Sardines) multi-annual management plan for the Adriatic: These two stocks are among the closest to collapse in the entire Mediterranean. After years of ineffective emergency measures and  frustrating and ongoing disagreement between Italy and Croatia, we finally have a proper management plan that imposes annual catch limits by single species in line with scientifically sound  harvest control rules. From now on, anchovies and sardines will be managed in the same way as bluefin tuna.

•  Shark by-catch mitigation measures: After 2 years of advocacy work by WWF, the proposal was tabled by the European Union. Mediterranean countries need to drastically improve data collection and reporting and adopt mitigation measures to minimize and manage bycatch of sharks, skates and rays . Measures will include gear modifications and alternative gear types, improvements in gear marking and detection, time restrictions or closures on fishing as appropriate, and implementation of maximum bycatch thresholds.

•   Two new Fishery Restricted Areas (FRAs), the Bari Canyon FRA in the southern Adriatic and the Gulf of Lion FRA, are approved.

•  The permanent closure of the Jabuka Pit Fishing Restricted Area (FRA): WWF contributed to the creation of this FRA with the exemplary engagement of Croatian and Italian stakeholders  in a process that will be used as a reference for the creation of future FRAs.

•  Priorities for the implementation of the Regional Plan of Action on Small Scale Fisheries (RPOA-SSF): Countries agreed on continuing to support the implementation of the priority actions, in line with the conclusions of the High-level event on advancing the RPOA-SSF in the context of the GFCM 2030 Strategy.

For the first time in years, we have seen major real improvements towards the sustainable management of Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries.  Measures have been adopted that will contribute to better management of the fisheries of all priority species of commercial interest, control fishing effort with temporal and spatial limits (such as the creation of new fisheries restricted areas) and tackle the bycatch of vulnerable species such as marine birds, cetaceans, sharks and rays. It has also been recognised that better management needs better data, and therefore a collection system has been reconfirmed and strengthened with a clear program. In 120 days, these measures will become mandatory. Responsibility will then be in the hands of countries and their fishers who will have to apply the measures and thus contribute to rebuilding key fish stocks and recovering marine biodiversity.

In this exceptionally important framework, two management measures are still missing that will have to be on the table at next year's meeting: making Mediterranean fisheries more selective by eliminating discard and adequately managing recreational fisheries.