Journalists Catch on to EU Fisheries Policy

European journalists got a taste of the complex world of oceans and seafood last week, participating in a conference on the EU Common Fisheries Policy in Dublin conducted by Internews’ Earth Journalism Network (EJN).

A journalist looks at a shellfish that a vendor holds up
European journalists participated in a conference on EU Common Fisheries Policy in Dublin. (credit: James Fahn/Internews)
<p>This conference teaches me things that I was not familiar with.&nbsp; Now, I can cover stories better, and of course, ask better questions.</p>
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Fourteen journalists from 8 countries met with a veritable buffet of stakeholders and sources – including policy-makers, chefs, NGOs, fishermen and fish processors – although undoubtedly found some of the commentary hard to digest.

The European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) has been controversial since its creation in 1983. Ostensibly designed to set sustainable quotas for the quantity and type of fish each European country can catch, it has been the subject of much criticism due to its apparent inability to effectively manage and police the sea waters, with 88% of European fish stocks considered overexploited. In 2009, an EU Green Paper concluded that the CFP is a failed policy in need of fundamental reforms.

Reporting on fisheries issues has also faced fundamental problems – partly because so much of the activity takes place remotely and out of sight but also because the science and policy surrounding fisheries is so complex.

EJN’s Journalism Conference on European Fisheries, supported by the Oak Foundation, set out to help correct this. The three-day event was attended by journalists from Spain, Italy, Greece, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Ireland and the UK.

“Many journalists don’t like to admit it, we think we’re experts on everything, but we really do need training sometimes,” confessed John Mooney, journalist at the Irish Sunday Times, who said he now had “far more understanding of issues, especially how fishing actually works and the economics of it.”

The workshop offered training by senior journalists, interactive presentations, panel discussions by a wide range of experts, and a day-long field trip to an active local port for interviews with fishermen, fish processors and local officials. “It was very important to us that the presentations were kept short to allow more time for questions and answers, which is how the training works best,” explained Morgan Williams, EJN’s event organizer.

The journalists also exchanged strategies to help make the difficult scientific and policy concepts involved easier to understand, choose appealing angles to engage their audiences, connect and interview with different sources, and integrate analysis of environmental concerns with economic, social, and political concerns.

Some of the discussion, particularly surrounding a perceived clash between policy and scientific recommendations, became quite heated. Each journalist went home with an article ready to be published, like Pedro Caceres who published a full page spread in El Mundo. Even more importantly, it enabled journalists to build their capacity to cover fisheries in the future, make new contacts and grow their networks of sources.

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