Agriculture and fisheries

Agriculture

In brief

The Belgian agricultural policy is determined by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) at the European level. The main components of the CAP are the direct payments, in support of farmers’ incomes, the common organization of the markets in agricultural products and the development of the rural areas in the European Union.

Elaborated in 1962, the CAP has been reformed several times so as to address new challenges. The latest reform of 2013 is aimed at making the CAP more equitable and "greener" and at increasing the market orientation of European agriculture.

Objectives for Belgium

One of the specific features of Belgian agriculture is the peri-urban nature of the agricultural areas. In our country with its high demographic concentration, agricultural land use faces competition from housing, industrial areas and road infrastructure, even in the countryside. This implies an upward pressure on land prices that is difficult to sustain, especially for young farmers who are starting activities and who have to face significant investments in their farms. Moreover, compared to other sectors, income from agricultural activity is low and working conditions (number of hours worked, harsh working conditions,…) are less favourable, which can easily discourage people from taking to farming as a profession. For this reason, the CAP financial support in Belgium is being directed specifically to investments in agricultural holdings and to the setting-up of young farmers.

With the "greening" of agriculture, the CAP has introduced the obligation for farmers to resort to environmentally sound practices. In order to be fully eligible for financial support from the CAP, farmers must provide environmental services. For example, an ecologically significant area is compulsory for each farm or group of farms, as well as crop diversification. In Belgium, alternatives are provided such as plant covers, extensive grasslands, crops with a positive impact on ecological efficiency, agroforestry, mechanical weeding or direct sowing.

The common organization of the agricultural markets is another key component of the CAP. It confirms the importance of a competitive and efficient food production chain. Belgium recommends strengthening the negotiating power of the farmers in the food production chain through the establishment of producer organizations and interbranch organizations in all agricultural sectors. The producers must have real negotiating power within the agri-food sectors. Belgium is clearly in favour of the possibility for these organizations to negotiate the prices and quantities of their members’ products.

Moreover, the CAP has been setting up a "safety net", i.e. a set of mechanisms intended to address market disruptions and the growing income volatility for the farmers, caused by significant price fluctuations in the internal and external markets. In this context, Belgium would like to see the introduction within the CAP of a mechanism for reviewing intervention prices that takes into account the production costs and the margins.

On another level, the CAP has established a "Fruit and milk at school" programme, for which the European Union cofinances the purchase and distribution of fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy products to school children. For Belgium, this is an information and education tool for children on the importance of agricultural products, agriculture and healthy dietary habits. In Belgium, the "Fruit and milk at school" programme is applied successfully. Per school year, the budget made available for Belgium by the European Union amounts to approximately 1 800 000 € and 420 000 Belgian school children (37%) benefit from the distribution.

To conclude, let us take the example of an important rural development policy measure applied in Belgium, where certain rural areas are subject to specific natural constraints: a harsher climate and less fertile soils. In order to achieve a balanced territorial development, it is essential to maintain the competitiveness of agriculture in these areas. In order to achieve this, our country is financially supported by the CAP.

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Fisheries

In brief

The fisheries policy in Belgium is determined by the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) on the European level and aims at preserving the living marine resources i.e. fish, crustaceans and shellfish, and at managing the fishing fleet of the European Union. Besides, the CFP endeavours to guarantee the long-term environmental sustainability of sea fishing and aquaculture activities, as well as positive social and economic returns for the fishermen and the coastal communities. Nevertheless, certain fish stocks are overexploited, which represents a threat not only to the fish populations but also to the productivity of fisheries. For this reason, the CFP imposes limits on fishery in order to maintain the fish stocks in the long term. Besides, it decides on areas where fishing is prohibited in order to protect  juveniles or spawners, on fishing gear standards or on the minimum size of the fish caught. The Council of the European Union decides on the fishing opportunities and sets the total allowable catches (TAC), according to the state and the productivity of the fish stocks, on the basis of scientific advice. The TAC are then divided as quotas between the Member States of the EU.

Objectives for Belgium

In Belgium, sea fishing falls within the exclusive competence of the Flemish Region, under the 1994 cooperation agreement between the Federal authorities, the Communities and the Regions. In the Walloon Region and in the Brussels-Capital Region, only recreational fishing and freshwater fish farming (mostly trout) takes place.

These last few years, the Belgian fishing fleet has been significantly reduced in order to adapt its capacity (engine power and tonnage) to the fishing opportunities and in order to improve the profitability of the sector. Belgium thus has contributed to reducing the overcapacity of the European fleet. The Belgian fleet includes some 80 vessels, mostly trawls suited for flatfish (sole, plaice,…). On a market value basis, the sole represents 50% of the total landings by the Belgian fleet. The Belgian fleet also catches cod and approximately 15% of crustaceans and shellfish, mostly shrimps and scallops.

The Belgian fishing areas are mainly located in the North Sea, the Channel, the Irish Sea, the Celtic Sea and, to a lesser extent, in the Bay of Biscay. Total landings amount to approximately 20,000 tonnes. The landings in Belgium take place in the ports of Zeebrugge (55%) and Oostende (25%), while the rest is mainly landed in the Netherlands (15%).

The reform of the CFP of 2014 has set the catch rates that can produce the maximum sustainable yield (MSY), to be attained progressively between 2015 and 2020, for all fish species. Too much fishing is not sustainable, insufficient fishing is not profitable. The MSY is the best objective for both sustainable and profitable fisheries.

Another achievement of the reform of the CFP is the progressive prohibition of discarding, involving the discharge of unwanted fish into the sea. This prohibition is combined with the obligation to land the fish caught. As a matter of fact, some 25% of the fish caught are discharged into the sea, implying a very low survival rate after the discharge. The fish discharged can include undersized fish, species on which fishing is prohibited or species subject to catch limits. In order to reduce this waste, all catches must progressively be  landed between 2015 and 2019, except for the species on which fishing is prohibited and the species having a high survival rate after the discharge. Noting that a certain level of discharges is inevitable, Belgium calls for more selective fishing gear and for fishing techniques reducing discards.

It should also be noted that in order to help young ship owners and aquaculture producers and in order to promote alternative environmentally friendly fishing techniques, Belgium benefits from a part of the European fund for maritime affairs and fisheries, with 6.4 billion euros for the period 2014-2020.

On the international level, Belgium supports the European Union in its commitment to eliminate the activities of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU fishing). IUU fishing constitutes a major threat to the conservation and sustainability of marine biodiversity in the oceans and seas of the world, with severe social and economic implications for the fishermen who respect the rules. IUU fishing is estimated at 15% of  global fisheries. The European Union is publishing a blacklist of non-cooperative vessels and countries and is penalizing offenders.

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