Yesterday morning in chilly Brussels I joined small scale fishermen and Greenpeace campaigners who had travelled from all over Europe to demonstrate together outside the European Council Building. We were there to remind ministers to put the health of our oceans first, in the reform process of the European laws that govern our seas.
Melanie Laurent, French film star of Inglourious Basterds fame, joined us. But despite having a star in our midst, the fishermen stole the show with politicians coming over to say hello, listen to their stories, and European press asking for interviews.
What happened next quite frankly took us all by surprise: politicians voted on bold and sweeping reform, dedicated to bringing Europe’s fish stocks back to sustainable levels after decades of overfishing. It was a huge victory.
Considering that the current European fleet fishes two to three times more than what is sustainable, and this reform process only happens once very decade, this is a crucial step forwards. Finally they also backed a measure to reduce discards, the wasteful practice of throwing unwanted dead or dying fish overboard.
For the last year we've been calling for a reform on this scale. Small scale fishermen make up 80% of the European fleet yet they are only granted a tiny fraction of the fishing quota. Many of them, like the ones that I joined in Brussels yesterday look after their patch by using sustainable methods of catching fish, compared to larger boats who often use destructive methods that damage the marine environment.
We formed an alliance with small scale individual fishermen in the UK and we toured around the coast talking to people. Thousands of people signed fish shaped petition cards for your local MEPs and went online to sign our petition to fisheries minister Richard Benyon. We made a film about the plight of small scale fishermen and we visited politicians, many of whom assured us that they were on board with our vision of reform. But despite all this hard work, we really didn’t know how it would all pan out.
It's fair to say Europe's politicians have really listened to you, and proved that they are willing to turn a corner and move towards greater protection of our oceans. As Greek fishermen Yannis put it, our campaign was infinitely stronger because Greenpeace and small scale fishermen stood together, and our voices were louder as a result.
This new ambition in Europe’s politicians is on the right road - but it’s not over yet. This proposal still has to get through the European parliament and the European Council next year. But with this new ambition and drive towards marine protection, we’re hoping that decisions will be made in line with yesterday's result.
Throughout this process we’ll be continue to stand with small scale fishermen, in a combined push for greater ocean protection and a sustainable fishing industry, so that that our children will continue to enjoy fish-filled seas.