Just keep swimming

October 25, 2013 // By: nef

Wednesday was a big day for me and all those I’ve worked with on nef's paint a fish campaign. The European Parliament voted to decide the contents of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) - a new EU fund designed to support coastal communities, create jobs and lead to more sustainable fishing. We’d been gearing up to influence this crucial vote for a year, and it was finally time to see whether the hard graft would pay off.

Our seas are in real trouble. In the past year, nef’s paint a fish campaign has seen tens of thousands of people from every single country in the EU pull together to urge their Members of European Parliament and fisheries ministers to do something about it. Although the battle is not over, it’s been a real lesson in just how far concerted civil society action can go to make a difference on the things that matter.

The money in the EMFF is supposed to be used to invest in activities that support the goals set out in the recently reformed Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) - which is the central rule book governing fishing in EU waters. Crucial to our seas, the CFP is updated only once every ten years. Thanks to the earlier work of paint a fish and the coalition of NGOs we've been working with the Policy’s new aims include restoring fish stocks to sustainable, profitable levels and awarding more of the fishing quota to environmentally and economically valuable fishing fleets. Great news if governments find ways to actually deliver on these aims – hence why Wednesday’s EMFF vote was such a big deal.

So did we manage to capture the attention of the EUs voters? I think so. An overwhelming 31,500 people called for action to save the seas by painting a fish for the campaign. We used their paintings to create a variety of materials showcasing the public’s creativity and support for fish stocks – bags, booklets, calendars, t-shirts – which we handed to dozens of MEPs ahead of the vote. Paint a Fish postcards, decorated by schoolchildren, reached MEPs from every EU member state, reminding them to take action to restore fish stocks for future generations. All this supported the incredible work of a coalition of organisations for sustainable fisheries, including OCEAN2012, OCEANA, Birdlife, FISH Secretariat, WWF, Greenpeace and many others.  EU citizens were also able to engage directly with MEPs via the votefish.org Twitter e-action.

While the final outcome of the voting is not perfect, the active role played by EU citizens, young and old from across the continent has made a very real difference. Our collective efforts helped ensure that public money will not go to funding new vessels; and that more funding will be directed to data collection, which is key to restoring fish stocks. I recently received a letter from the European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki praising the work of all the children taking part in Paint a Fish and insisting that “the reform would not have been possible without civil societies support”.

So thank you again to everyone who painted a fish in support of our fish stocks. You’ve proved that fighting for the environment is not the impossible mission it can sometimes seem, and the necessity of keeping up the pressure.  You can view some images of the paint a fish materials being handed over to MEPs at the paint a fish facebook page.


Fisheries, Democracy & Participation

Just keep swimming

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