This presentation was written and edited by our Law Office, on behalf of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF PROFESSIONAL FISHERMEN “THE MEDITERRANEAN” and in the context of the European Maritime Day conference organized by the European Commission on the 24th and 25th May 2023 in the city of Brest, France. It is our contribution to the dialogue that has opened for the formation of the new Common Fisheries Policy, in particular with regard to the operating framework of free fishing.
The Greek Boat Seines. A sustainable fishing method
CHAPTER A: HISTORICAL BACKGROUNDS
1.1. Establishment of precedent and submission of the new Management Plan.
Our Association is the only collective body in Greece that represents, promotes and supports the interests of the owners of the fishing gear “boat seines (SB)”. SB is a traditional, coastal, productive and sustainable fishing gear, dependent on the land, which, tied to it, winches the nets very slow and does not drag them, like an otter bottom trawl (ΟΤΒ) does. The fishing operation of the gear is such that the pulling force is applied to the net sides and not to the lead ropes, which during hauling are loose and do not exert significant pressures on the bottom. SB is inextricably linked to Greek society and cultural heritage, since ancient times (indeed Homer calls it PANAGRA and Plutarch mentions SAGINE), it operates as a fishing gear in Greece, a country traditionally supported by fishing.
Until the end of March 2020, the Greek Boat Seines operated in the National marine waters, under derogation, by virtue of the issued and valid Management Plan for the years 2017-2020. On 18/01/2021 a Draft Ministerial Decision of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food was issued on the subject of “establishment of a management plan for picarel (Spicara smaris) fishing and bogue (Boops boops), which are targeted by the fishing gear Boat Seines (SB), in certain areas of the Greek territory”, and was submitted by the Greek Government to the European Commission for approval. The 66th Plenary Report of the Commission’s Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF) was issued on April 2021, in the context of which the above Draft Ministerial Decision received the pre-approval of the competent European Commission.
It is worth noting that the Draft was fully accepted by the Commission, without any comments, additions or further requested actions from Greece, while corresponding Drafts are usually returned with comments and need to be resubmitted. Therefore, it was a complete, legal, and sufficiently documented in scientific terms management plan, which ensured the safe and environmentally sustainable operation of Greek Boat Seines. The Draft received the solemn pre-approval of the Commission; however Greece refuses to complete its obligations to the European Commission, violating this way the Community and Union law and also offending European institutions. In addition, it should be noted that the Greek State has never revoked the professional licenses of fishers using Greek Boat Seines. At the same time, with the document No. 284/30-8-2021, the Fisheries Council gave a positive opinion in favor of the whole process, which also leads to the conclusion that the non-completion of the Management Plan is an arbitrary and unjustified choice of the political leadership.
1.2. Appeal of our Association to the Greek and European Courts.
Therefore, even though the Greek State has created reasonable certainty that it wishes to establish a Management Plan for the years 2021-2024, it has changed its opinion completely unjustifiably and arbitrarily. In fact, the Greek State is reluctant to give at least a minimal reason for its refusal. From October 2021 until nowadays (May 2023), six (6) questions were submitted by different members of the Greek Parliament during plenary sessions regarding the issue of the disputed case. Only one question was answered by the Deputy Minister and not by the Minister of Rural Development and Food, again without giving sufficient explanations for the reason behind Greece’s refusal to implement its previous decision.
On 29/09/2021, our Association filed a complaint before the Criminal Prosecutor of Athens, for the investigation of possible criminal responsibilities of political leaders and officials of the Ministry of Rural Development and Food. On 6/10/2022, we were informed that our above-mentioned petition from 29.09.2021 and the related case file were forwarded to the President of the Hellenic Parliament, where the debate on lifting the immunity of the involved politicians is still pending.
Furthermore, from June to November of the year 2021, Greece was twice advised to complete the national process of adopting the pre-approved management plan, through letters from the European Commission to the Greek administration. In view of this unjustified refusal of Greece to complete the process it had initiated, on 21/12/2021 we appealed to the Supreme Court of Cassation of our country, that is the Council of State, to protect the professional rights of Greek Fishers who use the Greek Boat Seines.
On 2/11/2022, decision No. 2133/2022 of the 5th Department of the Council of State was published, which accepted that Greece has an obligation, according to the Greek Constitution, to regulate our professional activity, as long as we maintain our active fishing licenses, by issuing a relevant Management Plan. Since then, we have taken every action to implement the above decision, even appealing to the European Court of Human Rights; however, no provision has been made on behalf of the Greek Administration regarding our issue.
On 31/1/2023, our Association submitted to the competent Committee of the Council of State a request to determine whether the Greek State is compliant or not with the execution of the N. 2133/2022 decision. In parallel, most of our Association members and each owner of a Greek Boat Seine have individually filed multitude of lawsuits against the Greek State for our monetary satisfaction in order to restore our financial and moral damage due to the above.
Then, on 1/2/2023, we appealed to the Greek authority “Ombudsman”, protesting the non-execution of the decision. The Ombudsman in its letter to the Greek State, dated on 15/2/2023, requested the execution of the decision 2133/2022 of the Council of State. Also, in a more recent letter dated on 27.04.2023 the Ombudsman addresses questions to the Greek State regarding the continuing interruption of the activity of Greek Boat Seines owners and its conditions.
Greek Boat Seines, as a traditional fishing gear with an important historical, cultural, and national imprint, is part of the cultural heritage of Greece and cannot be treated with depreciation. It is therefore our obligation, both to previous and future generations, to defend this gear. The operation of Greek Boat Seines has, to date, never been prohibited by European and Community legislation, on the contrary, it is permitted with the issuance of a relevant Management Plan, in derogation of the current Regulation and by conducting in parallel scientific studies and publishing their findings and evaluation.
Our practice to date, given the constantly decreasing number of active vessels, has proven that the operation of Greek Boat Seines with the conditions set by the Regulation is feasible, sustainable. Greece’s refusal to adopt the Management Plan, which is prepared and submitted by itself, apart from being unjustified, scientifically unsupported and inconsequential, now constitutes an arbitrary act, contrary to the judgment of the Greek (and hopefully) and the European courts.
CHAPTER B: SOCIAL IMPACT OF NON-OPERATION OF GREEK BOAT SEINES
2.1. The Greek Boat Seines as part of decentralized economic activity
Greek Boat Seines constitutes an integral part of the Greek Mediterranean lifestyle, directly connected to the daily life and the traditional knowledge and experiences of the native populations of the Greek islands. The Greek Boat Seines “gives life” to the borders of the country, taking into account that each boat employs three to five people, usually indigenous, strengthening the Greek fleet and even during the difficult winter months, as the Greek Boat Seines can fish 6 months a year, from October to March. It is also especially important that the Greek Boat Seines is active only in 2% of the coastal zone of Greece, which indicates that it operates in a very limited and specific area compared to other coastal gears that are active in the entire Greek coastal zone. Furthermore, it does not operate during the main fish breeding months (from April to June). In this context, the native populations of the Greek islands and coastal Greece have combined their tradition and daily life with Greek Boat Seines in such a way that its possible abolition could have a manifold effect on their lifestyle in general.
In addition, it is a quintessentially Greek traditional method of fishing, used exclusively on the Greek islands. The Greek Boat Seines aims mainly the species picarel (Spicara Smaris), a fish that according to relevant scientific studies is found in abundance in the Greek seas and within the limits of sustainable exploitation. Besides, the Greek Boat Seines fishing activity entirely constitutes a part of the primary production sector, producing “net” state revenue, as the large volume of the catch is channeled to the market through fish ladders. In this way, the local island economy and the wider state economy are both strengthened in a beneficial way for the whole society.
Fishing with Boat Seines is undoubtedly, since ancient times, a vital professional activity for the native populations of the Greek coastal areas. It provides work and income to a sizable percentage of the residents of the areas in question, in which there are no alternative solutions for professional activity. The native professional Greek Boat Seines fishers, who have made a living by fishing with Greek Boat Seines for centuries, inheriting it from generation to generation, today, due to its non-operation, are in an extremely bad financial situation since they had invest significant funds in this fishing gear, on the other hand they are exposed to complete lack of alternative professional solutions especially those living in islands areas with small population.
CHAPTER C: CULTURAL IMPRINT OF GREEK BOAT SEINES
3.1. The Greek Boat Seines as a traditional Greek fishing gear
Since ancient times, the Greek culture is marked by its special and unique traditions, which co-shape it and give its unique character. The Greek Boat Seines constitutes a special feature of this culture as explained above, since it was used by the Greeks of ancient times, and it is still used by the modern residents of Greece. In particular, the fishers of the Greek islands are fully familiar with the use of the Greek Boat Seines, a familiarity which they have acquired through experience. As a result, the disappearance of the Greek Boat Seines from the Greek coasts will not actually modernize the fishing conditions but it is estimated to deprive the Greeks of a timeless part of their tradition and culture.
However, the meaning of the Greek Boat Seines is not only Greek, but Mediterranean in general. More precisely, the gear in question traditionally fishes in the Mediterranean Sea and is found on its shores, as it is designed to catch species that also grow in the Mediterranean. In fact, the fishing in question is conducted in a way that preserves the biodiversity through centuries, as proven by scientific studies, which conclude that the survival of species caught by the Greek – and in general Mediterranean – Boat Seines is in no way threatened. At the same time, fishing with Greek Boat Seines traditionally serves the Mediterranean diet, which offers countless health benefits.
The Boat Seines, as it is active in the Greek seas, is distinguished by its special technique, which requires both special knowledge of the gear and method of fishing, as well knowledge of the fishing grounds. In practice, it is used by experienced fishermen of great age who are trained by their predecessors and who will train their successors, i.e. from father to son, with absolute success for centuries, if one considers that the gear has been used from ancient times to the present day of interruption of its operation. Fishing with a gear of this type, which moves close to the coast, requires, by definition, an expertise which can be further upgraded, with the contribution of modern technology and science and with a more modern and sustainable orientation. The knowledge in question, if it is spreading as said and given that the operation of the Greek Boat Seines has already ceased, is now exposed to the risk of being forgotten and lost.
EU, with its Announcement to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Brussels, 21.2.2023 [COM (2023) 102 final] and also its Announcement to the European Parliament and the Council, Brussels, 21.2.2023 [COM (2023) 103 final], defined the new framework for the establishment of an EU action plan for the protection and restoration of marine ecosystems for sustainable and resilient fisheries as well as for the formulation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as a fisheries and oceans pact aimed at sustainable, science-based, innovative and inclusive fisheries management.
In this context, we believe that the Greek Boat Seines can contribute, due to the particularity in which the gear works, mainly in that it does not work by dragging the catch coming into direct contact with the bottom, but by retrieving the catch with a mechanical force applied on the boat, as will be analyzed hereinafter.
In any case, in the above Announcements [COM (2023) 102 final], EU points out: “In line with the objectives of the new global biodiversity framework and the EU 2030 Biodiversity Strategy to protect 30% of Europe’s sea area, the EU can reduce a significant share of this pressure by creating new MPAs and effectively managing existing ones as well as by making fishing practices more sustainable, including the use of low-impact fishing gears. Effectively managed protected areas minimize incidental catches of sensitive species, protect fish spawning and nursery areas and juveniles, and reduce impacts on sensitive habitats, in particular the seabed.”
In addition, EU in its Announcement [COM (2023) 103 final] points out that: “Fisheries must be promoted as an attractive career choice, with fishers seen as ‘stewards of the sea’. The chance to live an outdoor lifestyle or opportunities for innovative working arrangements, such as linking production to direct sales or tourism, should also be emphasized. Similarly, it is crucial to enhance and increase recognition of the key role of women throughout the EU seafood value chain, from the generation of wealth and employment to the sustainable use and conservation of aquatic resources.”
Finally, the EU concludes with the following finding-recommendation: “the benefits of a policy that avoids discards and unwanted catches need to be more highlighted to fishers. Furthermore, fishers themselves know best when and where to fish while avoiding unwanted catches. It is, therefore, key to entrust the use of selective fishing methods to fishers and to value their efforts to improve conservation. Fishers should demonstrate their commitment by ensuring full transparency of on-board operations, reporting their catches accurately and delivering results in terms of selectivity.”
We consider, therefore, that the above statement-recommendation of the EU is fully in line with the way the Greek Boat Seines operate, working each time according to the Management Plan approved by the EU, and it can serve the purposes of the CFP, within a sustainable for it and the marine environment context.
Greek Boat Seines touch the bottom of the sea without causing any harmful consequences. Practically, the gear “strokes” the bottom, prompting the catch to move up and gather at the back of the net, where it is collected. In practice, only the bottom of the nets (lead ropes) touches the bottom of sea, and the mere presence of the nets drives the catch into the nets, without “pushing” or exerting any pressure on the bottom or the catch. This is further demonstrated by the fact that only 30% (as fishermen calculate) of the ‘‘disturbed’’ catch is ultimately caught, while the algae found among the catch (when Greek Boat Seines operated on Posidonia meadows) was minimal to none, proving that no harmful consequences were caused by the operation of the boat seines on the surface of the bottom of the sea. It is highly possible that the fishermen who use the Greek Boat Seines will, after its eventual abolition, use gears more harmful to the marine environment.
The Greek Boat Seines should not be confused with the otter bottom trawl (OTB), which is a dynamic gear with doors that operates by dragging the bottom trawl. Also, the Greek Boat Seines is the only coastal gear, whose large volume of fish is channeled through a fish ladder, which means revenue for the state. The catch that our gear catches is according to Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR) and Hellenic Fisheries Research Institute (INALE) 70-75% the species picarel (Spicara smaris), Boopsboops and Sardina pilchardus, and the rest is various other fish caught in small quantities such as mullet, Scomber colias, squid.
In this regard, the Greek Boat Seines is incorrectly included among bottom trawls, which are considered to be harmful to the seabed and associated habitats [COM (2023) 102 final, p. 10], as the Greek Boat Seines is not a gear that is dragged entirely into the marine environment but a gear that includes a mechanism to bring the nets back to the boat in parallel with the gathering of the catch. Practically, the boat, firmly anchored, retrieves the nets, so the force which is exerted within the bottom of the sea is particularly reduced.
The minimum environmental imprint of the Greek Boat Seines is proven by the scientific research of our competent state supervisory bodies (HCMR and INALE), who agree on the following discarded quantities:
1) Otter bottom trawlers (OTB) 40-60% discarded
2) Gri-gri 25% discarded
3) Stationary Nets 16-26% discarded
4) GREEK BOAT SEINES 8-10% discarded (of which only 2% are marketable).
It is emphasized that the total landings of Greek Boat Seines represent approximately 2% of the country’s total landings. Therefore, if the Greek Boat Seines was responsible for the reduction in stocks, it would have been the first to run out of fish, which has not happened, a fact that proves that the Greek Boat Seines is not a factory, nor an otter bottom trawler, nor a Gri-Gri, but a traditional fishing gear whose history is lost in the depths of the millennia before Christ.
The above conclusions are also confirmed by the 66th plenary report of the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), with which the Greek Management Plan 2021-2024 for the Greek Boat Seines was approved by the EU: “Spicara smaris is a low-priced species, but highly appreciated on the market. This activity is the main one concerning picarel catches in Greece. Their catches are reported to account for about 50% of total catches of picarel in Greece, especially of small-sized individuals, which are highly appreciated by consumers….In the MP it is stated that the prohibition of the boat seiners targeting S. smaris would affect employment particularly in isolated and less-developed regions with minimum work opportunities, especially during winter. Moreover, banning boat seine operations close to the shore would force boat seiners to shift towards other fishing gears, with a consequent increase of fishing pressure on other grounds, with a major competition for space and resources. The MP also stresses that boat seine fishing provides employment for older people, who constitute a sizeable proportion of the fishers involved in such activity…In previous studies, (Petrakis et al, 2009) it was observed that while fishing over Posidonia meadows, the rope passes over the plants without causing any harm. New evidence of the impact of the fishery over Posidonia are provided. They proceed from recent studies where 734 catches, made during normal fishing operations, were examined. Results show a very scarce number of Posidonia clumps. STECF notes that such experiments were carried out after 2017, year when operations over the seagrass meadows was no longer allowed. The MP presents maps showing Posidonia meadows and other areas across the Greek coastline where operations with this gear are not allowed (i.e. on other sensitive habitats, or improper substrate types as hard bottoms)”(In this Regard, watch the 66th plenary report of the STECF plenary session, pp. 139-140).
Therefore the Greek Boat Seines:
Constitutes a Greek, traditional way of fishing. The special fishing technique, the target species and the geomorphology of the fishing grounds, lend themselves uniquely characteristics in the Greek Boat Seines.
It is the only gear that mainly targets the species picarel (Spicara Smaris), a fish that, according to the studies, is abundant in the Greek seas and is found within the limits of sustainable exploitation.
It is a primary sector of production, it contributes to state revenue, as a large volume of the catch is channeled to the market through the fish ladders.
It supports living at the borders of Greece (3-5 people crew on each boat) by strengthening the Greek fleet – against the Turkish fishing boats that work uncontrollably – and operates even during the difficult winter months, as it works 6 months a year, from October to March.
It only operates in 2% of the coastal zone of Greece, i.e. it works in a very small limited and specific area compared to other coastal gears that work in 100% of the coastal zone.
It is a special gear as it needs special knowledge to work – knowledge that has been passed from father to son or many generations.
Prevents illegal imports of fish from third countries.
Finally, while there is not a single documented study that proves that this gear for any reason should be abolished, on the contrary all the studies that have been done prove that the gear should continue to work.
It doesn’t work on Posidonia.
When the fishing season starts -on October 1st-, the Spicara Smaris is not an offspring and therefore its population is not adversely affected.
When the Greek Boat Seines does not work, the species picarel (Spicara smaris) is fished by other fishing gears which are more dynamic and therefore more harmful to fish stocks.
The gear, in other variants, operates in Mediterranean countries, with a management plan and the same can happen in our country.
Contributes decisively to the fishing and collection of foreign, to Mediterranean, species such as Lagocephalous sceleratus etc.
CHAPTER E: CONCLUSION
The Greek Boat Seines is a special and distinct fishing gear, whose historical, cultural and social origins allow its preservation in the Greek Seas. In addition, the Commission’s labeling for the use of low-impact fishing gear, clearly favors the operation of the Greek Boat Seines, as the existing fleet of vessels currently stands at 122 while working in less than 2% of the coastline.In addition a) the operation of the grip, which is retrieved (lifted) from the bottom and does not crawl on the bottom, b) the fishing of specific species (SpicaraSmaris and Boopsboops) and in a specific fishing season (from October 1st to March 31st of each year), c) the fishing in pre-defined and completely controlled spots (“kalades”) and of course outside the Posidonia meadows, d) the percentage of remaining and discarded species in the sea below 10% (of which below 2% are marketable)and e) the existence of a Management Plan for its operation with the submission of studies and research to the EU during the implementation of the MP by the competent state scientific bodies (HCMR and INALE), make the operation of the Greek Boat Seines compatible with the Action Plan of EU.
The Greek Boat Seines is a sustainable and compatible with the directions of the new CFP choice and the current unjustified refusal of the Greek State to allow its operation, in accordance with the EU-approved Management Plan 2021-2024 and contrary to Decision N. 2133/2022 of the Council of State, should be considered by the whole of European society as a reprehensible act. Therefore, we believe that the European institutions must take into account the illegal and unjustified behavior of Greece at the expense of the owners of the Greek Boat Seines and take every action to defend the European acquis as well as the professional rights of the members of our Association.