Slow Fish forum highlights European fishing industry challenges

SlowFish, part of the Genoa Fair 2011.
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The fifth edition of Slow Fish ran last Sunday at the Genoa Fiera in Italy, with a special focus this year on the small-scale fishers whose livelihood is threatened by industrial fishing and whose activities help protect rather than devastate the marine environment.

The event was officially inaugurated by Maria Damanaki, European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries; Carlo Petrini, President of Slow Food; Claudio Burlando, President of the Liguria Regional Authority; Pierluigi Vinai, Vice-President of the Fondazione Carige and Silvio Greco, President of the Slow Fish Scientific Committee.

Damanaki spoke about the problems with fishing in Europe today: fish resources are depleted and fish contains dangerous pollutants, is sometimes sold under false labels and huge amounts are thrown overboard after being caught by mistake. Her answer: 'We can probably change the way we eat, but we definitely have to change the way we fish.'

She outlined how the current reform of the Common Fisheries Policy would turn this around, and her push for an ecosystem approach to fisheries that should adapt to each region’s heritage, tradition and know-how. 'I am hoping to introduce a new way of fishing that respects reproductive seasons, sensitive areas like spawning grounds or other habitats and that spares non-target species such as seabirds, cetaceans and sharks; a new way of fishing that phases out wasteful practices such as throwing unwanted catches overboard.'

Positive about the opportunities for successful change, Damanaki cited a recent UK petition against bycatch that collected almost a million signatures. She said she expected opposition from fishing industry interests and some political levels, and so asked for support to help convince national governments, minsters and members of the European Parliament to vote for her proposals.

She also highlighted the importance of education and funding projects that teach people about good behavior, that develop tourism and that provide fisherman with another way to make money, like a new project recently launched in Nice where French fishers are paid to go out on their boats and collect recyclable plastic and other garbage from the sea when they are not fishing.

Slow Food President Carlo Petrini turned the spotlight onto small-scale fishers, who he said 'were not sufficiently protected from this environmental disaster that condemns them to a slow extinction.'

'These years are strategic for EU food policy,' he said, talking about how Slow Food was in harmony with a new food policy strategy that includes respect for the health of the environment, social justice in the protection of small fishing and farming communities and the abandonment of an unsustainable development model based only on consumption and waste.

'These small communities cannot be supported only by the price of commodities, but must be supported by the EU,' Petrini said. 'The whole community must support the work these farmers and fishers do for the ecosystem… small fishers protect their local area, as well as our historical memory, tourism and culture and if reducing food to a commodity is our biggest mistake.'

For more information on the Slow Fish program, visit www.slowfish.i