General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean - GFCM

Where are we now?

Despite the advances made, many challenges remain and call for strengthened political will and capacity to step up efforts in the implementation of existing policy frameworks. Working towards sustainable fisheries and aquaculture management also requires a better integration into ocean governance frameworks, taking into account the precautionary principles and the ecosystem approach.

Fisheries science and management

Reverting the trend in the overexploitation of fishery resources and addressing biodiversity has been the main focus of the GFCM across its area of application. This was addressed under Target 1 “Reverse the declining trend of fish stocks through strengthened scientific advice in support of management” and Target 4 “Minimize and mitigate unwanted interactions between fisheries and marine ecosystems and environment” of the fisheries mid-term strategy.

The significant increases in the quality and quantity of available information and fisheries data has driven the adoption of more and better management efforts at the local, subregional and regional levels. In recent years, the GFCM has adopted 10 management plans aimed at ensuring the long-term sustainability of fishing activities and six decisions addressing conservation issues. It has made important strides to increase spatial management capabilities thanks to the creation of nine fisheries restricted areas (FRAs), including the Jabuka Pomo Pit FRA, often mentioned as a virtuous example of preservation of fisheries resources and cooperation between CPCs.

Moreover, the GFCM has ramped up efforts to ensure management advice is based on accurate, timely and comprehensive information, by carrying out surveys at sea, launching large-scale research programmes, improving onboard monitoring through a dedicated bycatch and discard monitoring programme and launching the first pilot studies on mitigation measures. In this regard, the organization of events such as the Forum on fisheries science in the Mediterranean and the Black Sea (Fish Forum), held in 2018, has contributed to boosting the science-policy interface and fostering cooperation and exchange.

As a result of these efforts, and although much still remains to be done, there are promising signs showing that active management makes a difference. According to the latest report on the State of the Mediterranean and Black Sea fisheries (SoMFI 2020), the GFCM has begun to reverse the prevailing trend of overexploitation in the region, with an increase of more than 10 percent in the share of stocks that are sustainably exploited and a reduction of more than 15 percent in exploitation ratios, along with a rise in overall stock biomass. This demonstrates that a collapse of fisheries stocks can be prevented and that adequate conservation measures can help revert the trend in overexploitation and increase the sector’s profitability.

In order for fisheries to continue playing their socio-economic role in the face of climate change and increasing anthropogenic pressure on the marine environment, sustained efforts must continue towards rebuilding stocks above levels that can produce maximum sustainable yield (MSY).

Socio-economic dimension

Hand-in-hand with management, the fisheries strategy has underlined the essential social and economic dimension of the sector in the region. Under its Target 1 “Reverse the declining trend of fish stocks through strengthened scientific advice in support of management” and Target 2 “Support livelihoods for coastal communities through sustainable small-scale fisheries”, the strategy has accelerated the work of CPCs to promote sustainable livelihoods in the fisheries sector, particularly within the small-scale fisheries (SSF) sector and the communities which rely on them.

This work advances the principles and objectives of the MedFish4Ever Declaration and the Sofia Declaration, which uphold the need for further integration of the socio-economic dimension in fisheries management, including in the context of recreational fisheries, and which advocate for capitalizing on relevant linkages with the Blue Economy to promote growth, jobs and investment. Furthermore, these efforts have advanced the implementation of the FAO Voluntary Guidelines for Securing Sustainable Small-Scale Fisheries in the Context of Food Security and Poverty Eradication (the SSF Guidelines) in the region.

Recognizing the particular importance of small-scale fisheries to Mediterranean and Black Sea coastal communities and livelihoods, a ten-year Regional Plan of Action for Small-Scale Fisheries (RPOA-SSF) was adopted in 2018 as a political commitment toward long-term sustainability. To advance its implementation, dedicated activities such as the SSF Forum were launched. The creation of cooperation platforms such as the Friends of SSF platform also enabled to address interdisciplinary issues, such as access to social protection, and build synergies among the ongoing work of regional stakeholders.

In addition, to support its conservation and management interventions, the GFCM has underscored the contribution of fisheries to social development by improving socio-economic data collection and drawing attention to social protection as a means to strengthen the resilience of coastal communities. In this respect, socio-economic surveys were launched in eight CPCs and recreational fisheries pilot studies were executed in all GFCM subregions. However, in order to ensure the full implementation of the RPOA-SSF, further coordinated action is essential.

Compliance and enforcement

Adopting management decisions is only half the battle: the decisions also need to be enforced and their implementation needs to be monitored so that they can reach their objectives. This need was addressed by Target 3 “Curb illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing through a regional plan of action” of the fisheries mid-term strategy.

Over the past few years, the GFCM has strengthened its legal framework and capacity to ensure compliance in the region, through the development of high-seas joint inspection schemes and the piloting of a centralized vessel monitoring system. At the global level, the GFCM has also played a key role in drawing attention to the need to fight illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

As a result, a Regional Plan of Action to Fight against IUU Fishing (RPOA-IUU) was adopted in 2017, operationalizing at the technical level the political commitments under the MedFish4Ever Declaration and the Sofia Declaration. Moreover, upon an initiative from the GFCM, an international day for the fight against IUU fishing is now celebrated around the world on 5 June each year.

Finally, within the framework of the Initiative for the sustainable development of the blue economy in the western Mediterranean (the WestMED Initiative), the first Mediterranean virtual regional training academy on fisheries control and inspection was created, coordinated by the European Fisheries Control Agency (EFCA) and financed by the European Multiannual Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

Aquaculture

The vision for an aquaculture sector that is more competitive, sustainable, productive, profitable and equitable is enshrined in the GFCM aquaculture strategy adopted in 2017 and its three targets: Target 1 “Build an efficient regulatory and administrative framework to secure sustainable aquaculture development”, Target 2 “Enhance interactions between aquaculture and the environment while ensuring animal health and welfare“ and Target 3 “facilitate market-oriented aquaculture and enhance public perception”. Building upon these targets and adapting them to the ever-changing conditions and challenges will be an integral part of the new strategy.

Considering the growing importance and potential of aquaculture in the region, effective support was provided and lead to the adoption of specific national strategies and development plans for aquaculture, which are now in place in more than 85 percent of CPCs. In addition, capacity development efforts were made towards the establishment and effective implementation of dedicated zones for aquaculture and more than 70 percent of CPCs now have specific provisions in place on allocated zones for aquaculture or aquaculture zoning within their national aquaculture strategies.

Thanks to a strong network of producer organizations in the region, cooperation among stakeholders produced fruitful results, in particular through the establishment of several multi-stakeholder platforms at CPC level, promoting the participatory approach. Great strides were also made in sharing aquaculture knowledge and know-how. The GFCM Aquaculture Demonstrative Centres play an essential role in this knowledge-sharing: two centres are now established and in operation in the Black Sea and two more are planned to be created in the Mediterranean too. Other advances for the sector include promoting market-oriented production and social acceptability and highlighting the environmental services of aquaculture.

Adapting to emerging priorities

Capacity development has been a key priority in both the fisheries strategy, in particular its Target 5 “Enhance capacity-building and cooperation” and the aquaculture strategy, where capacity development and cooperation are a cross-cutting aspect in the three targets.

In parallel to the progress made on technical fronts throughout the implementation of its fisheries and aquaculture strategies, the GFCM has evolved to become a more modern organization, better able to adapt to and address emerging challenges and priorities in the region.

The subregional approach adopted has been instrumental in addressing the specificities of each of its five subregions (western, central and eastern Mediterranean, Adriatic Sea and Black Sea); it is supported by technical units that are currently in operation in Bulgaria, Lebanon and Spain, soon to be followed by Tunisia and Croatia. Advances in implementing the subregional approach were also facilitated by the work done in collaboration with the FAO regional projects, which contributed to closer cooperation among CPCs, efficient exchange of information and discussions on the main actions of the strategies.

Cooperation and partnerships with stakeholders have also accelerated, with the conclusion of 17 memoranda of understanding, and strategic activities have been promoted through specific projects supported by extra-budgetary funds. In addition, the GFCM can now count on a consolidated network of expert brought about by research programmes and by initiatives such as the Fish Forum 2018 or the Aquaculture Demonstrative Centres. Finally, better preparedness has boosted the ability of the Commission and its Secretariat to meet and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.