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Sustainable fishery products are those that come from sustainably managed fisheries. In simple terms, sustainable fishing practices are those that catch the target fish within sustainable limits, while not disrupting the natural structure of the ecosystem, and with minimal endangerment of other species present.
So how is the fishery of the Republic of Croatia managed in a sustainable way? Today, when the Republic of Croatia is an integral part of the European Union, the legislative framework for fisheries management is very dynamic and complex. It consists of a number of advisory and administrative bodies that can essentially be divided into two levels, international and national.
At the international level, regional fisheries management organisations (RFMO) are responsible for fisheries issues. The decisions of two such organisations are very important for the Republic of Croatia. One of them is is the GFCM (General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean),established by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN). The task of GFCM is the protection and sustainable use of living marine resources from the biological, social, economic, and ecological aspects in the area of the entire Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It carries out its activities by regulating the use of fishing tools, prescribing technical measures and minimum catch sizes for marine organisms, controlling fishing effort and the like. Another organisation of this type is IICCAT (The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas).The tasks of this organisation are linked to the management of about 30 species of tuna and related fish in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. Conducting numerous analyses and research that include biometrics, ecology, and oceanography with a focus on the state of stock and species that are part of bycatch, the ICCAT makes decisions and develops protection measures in the entire area it covers. The Republic of Croatia is obliged to adhere to and implement in its legislation all decisions and advice prescribed by these two international organizations.
Given that the Republic of Croatia is a member of the European Union, the legislative and advisory frameworks of European bodies are binding on it. DG MARE, the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, operates at the level of the European Commission. The legislative framework proposed by the European Commission is based on scientific data and measurements carried out by member states and submitted to the Scientific, Technical and Economic Committee for Fisheries (STECF), which further proposes the necessary legislative measures to the Commission.
The national legislative framework is the most important factor of sustainable fisheries in the Republic of Croatia. For the Republic of Croatia, the key institution is the Ministry of Agriculture, Directorate of Fisheries. In addition to the key role of the Ministry, it is important to point out that in the Republic of Croatia there is a deep consensus on the need to preserve natural resources, so the implementation of the management measures of all the mentioned institutions is much easier. Often, our regulations go further than what is prescribed by the EU and international institutions, even though they are most often adopted with the full agreement of the Directorate of Fisheries and the fishing sector. Ministarstvo poljoprivrede, Uprava za ribarstvo.
Small pelagic fish:
Small pelagic fish fishing is extremely important for Croatian fisheries. Due to its importance, the Republic of Croatia (RC) has for many years implemented national management measures for small pelagic fish, with the aim of sustaining sardine and anchovy stocks and fisheries.
From 2008 until today, the Republic of Croatia has been implementing a national ban on fishing for small pelagic fish (sardines and anchovies) during the sardine spawning period, for a period of 20-40 days, for vessels fishing with a purse seine net intended for catching small pelagic fish (srdelara). Since then, scientific data have shown an increase in the number of sardine recruits (increased recruitment) and an increase in sardine biomass.
Furthermore, since 2014, all vessels have been authorised to carry out fishing with a sardine purse seine net. In the same year, the power of artificial lighting - which is used for fishing - was reduced. Also, since 2014, due to catch control and monitoring of vessel movement, electronic registers and satellite-based vessel monitoring systems have been installed on all authorised vessels (VMS). The mentioned management measures are still in force now.
Upon joining the European Union (EU), the Republic of Croatia received the possibility of financing certain management measures aimed at the sustainability of stocks, from the European Fisheries Fund 2007-2013, and from the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund 2014-2020. Measures of permanent and temporary suspension of fishing have proven to be good tools for reducing fishing effort and preserving fish stocks during spawning, but also for protecting fishermen. Therefore, the Republic of Croatia used and still uses these measures for the purpose of preserving small pelagic fish stocks, as well as fishermen who work in the field of small pelagic fish fishing. It is extremely important to note that Croatian fishermen participate in proposing management measures. Their knowledge, gained through many years of experience at sea, helped to adopt a series of measures. Although the management measures were at times very difficult for many of them, the fishermen accepted them because they believed in their results and believed that they were doing it for their future, because without fish there are no fishermen.
Throughout the world's seas and oceans there are places that are recognised as being of special importance for the protection of marine resources. Due to their special physical and ecological conditions, they are hatcheries and nurseries for numerous species. In the Adriatic Sea, the most famous such area is known under the name Pomo Pit (Jabučka kotlina).
The Pomo Pit is located in the central part of the Adriatic and covers almost 10% of its surface. It is believed that 23% of the total biomass of economically important species of the northern and central Adriatic is found in the Pomo Pit.
It is therefore not surprising that this area is particularly important to fishermen on both sides of the Adriatic. The Pomo Pit used to be the main fishing area in the Adriatic Sea used by the Croatian and Italian trawling fleets, and over 30% of the trawlers' catch came from this area of the Adriatic. However, stocks of almost all represented species were in very poor condition as a result of overfishing. Large industrial trawlers systematically exploited this area despite its distance from the coastal areas of the Adriatic. In July 2015, a one-year ban on trawl fishing in the deepest part of the Pomo Pit was finally established at the bilateral level by agreement between the Croatian and Italian administrations with the aim of protecting shrimp and hake. This measure was extended for another three months in 2016. Using the knowledge about the possible positive effects of protection from previous years and the knowledge that such short suspensions of fishing cannot result in long-term effects of protection, the Croatian administration encouraged intensive negotiations with Italian fishermen, scientists and the administration. The negotiations resulted in the decision to establish the protection of the Pomo Pit at the national level for a period of three years. After the expiration of this measure, it was agreed to reassess the state of the resources and, accordingly, extend adequate protection measures. After the scientific monitoring confirmed that the positive developments in terms of the number and structure of populations of key species in this area were better than expected and that positive trends were also being recorded in the surrounding area, the Ministry of Agriculture of the Republic of Croatia launched an initiative at the EU level to continue the protection of this area, which has, with the support of the Italian Republic, finally resulted in the adoption of the new GFCM Protection Recommendation without a time limit.
The most important species farmed in the Adriatic are tuna and white fish - sea bream and sea bass. The sustainability of tuna farming is ensured by Croatia's membership in the aforementioned International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
Sustainable production of white fish is ensured by a strict EU and national legal framework. However, Croatian companies go one step further. Since 2019, the largest part of the production of sea bass, sea bream, and meagre in the Republic of Croatia bears the ASC certificate. This certification provides evidence to stakeholders, customers and consumers that production is managed in a responsible manner, in accordance with the best social and environmental practices. ASC (Aquaculture Stewardship Council) is an independent non-profit labelling organisation that establishes a protocol on farmed marine organisms, while ensuring sustainable aquaculture. ASC certification requires fish farms to meet strict requirements and guarantees customers that the fish has been produced in a socially and environmentally responsible manner. In order to be certified according to the ASC standard, fish farmers must meet a number of requirements related to the planning, development, and implementation of farming and production systems. Significant, often unintended, adverse effects associated with aquaculture, including overuse of antibiotics and mismanagement of farm sites, are reduced with ASC certification. By applying more than 150 performance indicators, ASC helps move the aquaculture industry towards sustainability with standards that: •reduce the use of pesticides and chemicals • require best practices to prevent the spread of disease and parasites between farmed fish and wild fish • proactively prevent possible escape of fish • set strict criteria for resource use and sustainable fishmeal •regulate feeding procedures, reducing the amount of fishmeal that falls into the water below the farm • maintain water quality • regulate where farms can be located for the protection of sensitive areas of nature
Freshwater ponds in the Republic of Croatia are located in Natura 2000 network areas and as such have a positive impact by providing environmental benefits and services and supporting suitable habitats for species of interest, e.g. habitats for waterfowl.
The sustainability of freshwater aquaculture is ensured by a strict EU and national legal framework, and the Habitats Directive (92/43/EEC) and the Birds Directive (2009/47/EC) are particularly important.
Each farm is prescribed special environmental protection conditions after carrying out various evaluations on the possible effects on the conservation objectives of the Natura 2000 area.