Questions on New Imple­menting Protocol to the EU-Gabon Fisheries Part­nership (2021-2026): concerns for marine ecosystems and coastal commu­nities in Gabon

Indiendatum: nov. 2021

Question for written answer E-004972/2021
to the Commission
Rule 138

Caroline Roose (Verts/ALE), Grace O'Sullivan (Verts/ALE), Benoît Biteau (Verts/ALE), Francisco Guerreiro (Verts/ALE), Pierrette Herzberger-Fofana (Verts/ALE), Michèle Rivasi (Verts/ALE), Nora Mebarek (S&D), Miguel Urbán Crespo (The Left), Anja Hazekamp (The Left)

The new Implementing Protocol grants optional fishing possibilities for four trawlers targeting deep-sea crustaceans under exploratory fishing. A study of Gabon’s fisheries (Ekouala, 2013) indicates that during oceanographic campaigns with experimental fishing gear, the catch composition showed significant bycatch levels. The annexes to the protocol indicate high authorised bycatch limits, despite many fish stocks in Gabonese and adjacent waters being overexploited or unassessed (lack of reliable/consistent data) (UN Food and Agriculture Organization).

Considering the destructive impacts of bottom-contacting gears on bycatch and the seabed, and that these fisheries have already been exploited – in the 1990s and 2000s by Spanish vessels – why does ‘exploratory’ fishing need four trawlers to reach its objectives?

The ex post evaluation of the previous protocol highlights the low total value-added received by Gabon (11 %), due to the absence of landings and tuna processing infrastructure in Gabon, and notes that sectoral support has not been used optimally. It also mentions delays and inconsistencies in data transmission by Member States.

How does the Commission plan to concretely allocate (insufficient) sectoral support to fisheries and management measures, including small-scale fisheries, especially women, thus ensuring that the agreement will have bigger socio-economic benefits for the country? Will it publish annual reports on the use of sectoral support?

Has it assessed the impacts of increased maximum tonnage in the new protocol on pelagic ecosystems, elasmobranch bycatch and coastal communities?

Indiendatum: nov. 2021
Antwoorddatum: 25 jan. 2022

Answer given by Mr Sinkevičius
on behalf of the European Commission

Gabon and the EU agreed to an exploratory fishery activity to assess if a commercial fishery is possible and respects sustainability and surplus principles[1].

Gabon wants to develop fisheries on unexploited stocks, for which a surplus would be available. For the EU fleet, it will also serve to verify if the intended fishery[2] is economically viable.

The Terms of reference for the exploratory activity are based on scientific advice[3], and since the area under exploratory fishing also covers vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs), a strict protocol has to be followed.

The results of the exploratory fishing sequence would hence define whether the stocks are healthy and how the fishery should be managed, also to prevent any harm to the marine environment.

Until recently, it was not possible to unload tuna catches of EU vessels in Gabonese ports and generate local economic revenues. In the newly revamped port of Owendo, transhipments are now possible. However, the lack of canning plant and the status of Gabon as a place of origin remains unfavourable to local transformation.

The sectoral support with a budget of EUR 1 million will enhance scientific capacities, support control policies, and finance artisanal fishery centres, with benefits for women and young people. The Joint Committee[4] has endorsed on 16 December 2021 the programme of actions and will monitor its implementation.

The reference tonnage is a financial reference, raised to adapt to the previous tuna catches of the EU fleet in Gabon and thus does not modify the situation for stocks and bycatches, monitored and managed by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) at regional level[5].

The interactions of the purse seine fishery with local fishing communities are limited.

[1] The exploratory activity intends to gather data supporting such a scientific assessment.

[2] Targeting 2 deep sea shrimps species

[3] Advice is developed by the IEO (Instituto Espanol de Oceanografia — the Spanish scientific institute) and peer reviewed by a consortium of EU scientists before being proposed to Gabon.

[4] Whose reports are shared with the European Parliament.

[5] EU fleet activities in Gabon are therefore supported by ICCAT scientific advice and have to comply with all ICCAT management measures.

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