Fisheries freshen up with EU help

  • 2002-01-17
  • Leah Bower
RIGA - Latvia has turned to nearby fishing giants Sweden and the United Kingdom for help in bringing its struggling fisheries up to European Union standards.

Funded with 1.4 million euros ($1.24 million) from the EU's Phare entrance assistance program, officials from all three countries have teamed up as part of a twinning program intended to ensure Latvia can give Brussels the data it will ask for after 2004.

Brussels requires a raft of information on fisheries from EU members, including satellite tracking of all vessels over 27 feet and detailed numbers concerning fish stocks, explained Mike Barns, formerly of the U.K.'s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

It is an immense amount of data to collate and track, said Barns, who is the pre-accession adviser for the twinning project.

"We're looking at such questions as are there enough people on committees and working groups who'll have to administer all of the fisheries - and can they do that?"

Fish stocks in Latvia, as in most of Northern Europe, are fairly unhealthy. Herring and sprat are the only healthy Latvian species in both the Baltic Sea and the Gulf of Riga, according to the Latvian Fish Fund.

The fisheries twinning program started in November 2001 and is almost identical to an ongoing project in Lithuania and a recently concluded one in Estonia.

Latvia closed its fisheries chapter with the EU on Oct. 26, 2001 but decided it needed some help integrating its administrative systems with those of the EU.

Rather than looking at the fisheries themselves the Phare program is geared almost exclusively toward the administrative bodies - the Latvian Fisheries Association, the Fisheries Research Institute and the National Board of Fisheries.

"We're looking at ways people have worked under communism with an eye to how people will have to work in the union," Barns said.

What is impossible to tell this early into the project is whether there are too many or too few personnel to carry out the immense task of gathering all of the information about fish species, health, fishing fleets, processing and a wealth of other data.

Inevitably, technology plays an important role in getting Latvian fisheries managers up to speed.

With the assistance of British and Swedish computer experts the twinning project is overseeing construction of a computer system - and eventually software - which should be able to accept and track data from all types of governmental organizations, making it easier for officials to locate and make sense of what is happening.

The new system should even be able to track the Latvian fishing fleet using new satellite equipment recently installed on many boats.

What the twinning project won't come into much contact with is the gray fishing industry where catches are not declared either before or after processing.

"I'm sure there is one - it is trying to prove that it exists that is difficult," Barns said. "It is a wide problem in member states, too."