Interview with the European parliamentarian Mr. Carlos Iturgaiz

We are interviewing Carlos Iturgaiz (Santurce, Vizcaya, Spain, 20th October 1965), a well-known Spanish People’s Party politician who, after a long career in the Basque Country, became an MEP in the European Parliament since 2004 and currently is Member of the Fisheries Committee.

Mr Iturgaiz has been responsible for coordinating and presenting the report “Towards a sustainable and competitive European aquaculture sector: current status and future challenges“, which was approved last 12 June 2018 by the Parliament as a non-legislative resolution by a large majority (605 votes out of a total of 673). In the H2020 project MedAID we are interested in this initiative, since one of the project’s work packages addresses issues related to the governance of the sector.

The newly approved report argues that the priority in the development of aquaculture in Europe is a sustainable food production, considering the need for different types of aquaculture products (marine and inland fish, molluscs, crustaceans and algae). The introduction of clear and homogeneous criteria for licensing across the EU, the implementation of common procedures to fight diseases, or the effective management of space are among the measures proposed to achieve this aim.

The report also stresses the need for a more strict EU legislation on imports of aquaculture products, including better controls at the borders, to ensure that they meet the same environmental and food safety standards as the ones produced in the EU.

What motivated the European Parliament to produce this report in favour of the development of European aquaculture?
EU aquaculture provides to the consumer high quality, sustainable products and, I believe, we can only be proud of our Spanish and European sector. However, although aquaculture maintains a steady growth rate worldwide for half a century, in the European Union it has not fully realized its potential.
So, EU aquaculture development is stagnating, we need to give it a boost. This was what motivated me to take the initiative to draft this report, which, following discussion with my colleague EPP coordinator in fisheries and aquaculture, Gabriel Mato, was proposed and accepted by the Fisheries Committee.

In your opinion, what are the primary goals for the development of aquaculture in Europe today? And what are the lessons learnt from last 30 years?
The growth of the sector has several problems, including the lack of available maritime space for its activities, administrative obstacles, particularly those arising from licensing procedures, competition that exists in the world market, combined with insufficient consumer information on aquaculture products from third countries in terms of the quality, environmental footprint, social conditions and welfare of the fish, the bad preconceived image of aquaculture that citizens have…
Good intentions and initiatives abound: the European Commission has published in 2009 a Communication aiming at “building a sustainable future for aquaculture” and in 2013 “Strategic Guidelines for the sustainable development of EU aquaculture”. The new Common Fisheries Policy aims, among others, to give new impetus to EU aquaculture, allocating to its promotion a non-negligible financial support of € 1,2 billion for the period 2014-2020. However, implementation was not a match for the sector’s expectations and the initial enthusiasm was quickly transformed to deception and defeatism.

What needs to be done?
The European Commission strategies proposed remain very relevant today: simplify administrative procedures; securing sustainable development and growth of aquaculture through coordinated spatial planning; enhancing the competitiveness of EU aquaculture; promoting a level playing field for EU operators by exploiting their competitive advantages; are still a challenge.
What is needed is political impetus. And this is why the European Parliament’s initiative is important. You need to keep in mind that the EP is, since 2009, co-legislator and that any policy initiative on aquaculture will have to be shaped hand in hand with the Council.

Aspects related with governance are studied in the MedAID project. One of the identified main barriers to the development of the sector has to do with administrative difficulties for obtaining or renewing licenses. Part of these difficulties may be related to the competition for coastal space by various activities. Which mechanisms are planned to manage and solve such conflicts?
A proper spatial planning of all maritime activities is indispensable. And this has to be done following effective consultation and equal participation of all actors. Sometimes aquaculture is marginalised as other sectors have more economic power or influence. But also economic activities can be compatible one another. So “intelligent” spatial planning does not necessarily have to entail the segregation of activities, but rather to find a way of harmonious symbiosis among them, and that this can potentially bring benefits to all.
One should also not forget the environmental services provided by sustainable aquaculture. The identification of the most suitable areas for freshwater aquaculture in the context of spatial planning will help expanding production while enhancing landscapes, habitats and biodiversity protection.

The implementation of a labelling system for sustainable aquaculture in the EU is mentioned in your report. What type of criteria will be used to determine which aquaculture activities are sustainable and which are not? Who is going to define these criteria? What role does economic sustainability play in these definitions?
I insist in my report on proper labelling throughout the whole chain – from the production to the consumer’s plate – both in fish markets and in the hotel, restaurant and catering sectors. This is important for all products, both imported and EU-produced. Labelling may help better differentiation of EU aquaculture products and can certainly help the consumer making informed choices. Voluntary certification schemes can also play a role in this context. The development of short food circuits can also give additional value for proximity to high quality and extra-fresh local products.
It is true that there are no clear criteria, at least at EU level, on what exactly “sustainable aquaculture” is. A lot of initiatives exist both at Member States’ level or by the EU sector itself, which is very encouraging. The recently created Aquaculture Advisory Council, where the sector and all stakeholders that have a direct interest participate, can play a key role in drawing up criteria at EU level.
It is important that any criteria on sustainability will have to address environmental, social and economic considerations. Economic viability is one of the three pillars of sustainability and each one of these pillars is equally important with respect to the others.

The European approach to fisheries and aquaculture management has moved towards a bottom-up approach where decisions are taken at the level where these activities occur (from national to local) according to the principle of subsidiarity. Which will be the role of local communities and local authorities in aquaculture development? In case of opposition by local communities, are there any mechanisms for conflict resolution? How do you expect to manage the specific situations when political impetus at the European scale is not in accordance with the wishes and social needs of local communities?
The development of EU aquaculture needs to be achieved within a context of mutual respect of each one’s role – EU Institutions and Member States’ local and regional administrations – the necessary dose of subsidiarity to the management of EU aquaculture has to be mixed with reinforced action at EU level. Objectives could be set at EU level, while regionalised targets should be set, adapted to the specificities of each aquaculture branch at local / regional level. As, the principle of subsidiarity aims to ensure that decisions are taken as closely as possible to the citizen, but without excluding action at EU level, when it is justified in light of the possibilities available at national, regional or local level. Any initiative at EU level which does not take in due consideration the wishes and societal needs of local communities is doomed to fail.

Many works in the literature are devoted to social acceptability as a major obstacle to the development of aquaculture. The positioning of the European Parliament emphasizes the need to support this development. However, apart from stakeholder consultation and other generalities (and planning to do, …) there is little evidence on how territorial governance should be strengthened to help unlock the sustainable growth of the sector.
This is true. However, there are upcoming opportunities and appointments that we should grasp in order to give to EU aquaculture the place it deserves: the European Commission will deliver, by the end of 2018, an assessment of the situation with regard to licensing requirements and allocation of space to aquaculture, based on the Member States’ reports on progress made with regard to their national strategic plans for aquaculture. By 2021 Member States will have to adopt national maritime spatial plans, as foreseen in the EU Directive establishing a framework for maritime spatial planning. Also the future CFP should include measures and the necessary financial means to accompany the sustainable development of a thriving EU aquaculture sector.

ItugaizMr. Carlos Iturgaiz
European parliamentarian, EPP Group
Member of the Fisheries Committee

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