Fishing boats at the shore. © Anna Tagkalou/Greenpeace

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy".

The famous words of Martin Luther King Jr. came very vividly to mind last weekend when listening to the moving stories shared by fishers during the best practices workshop of Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) that took place in Athens. 

It was the third workshop this year, following Baltic and Atlantic editions. Fishers from Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy and Spain met to share stories of how in times of difficulty – with the seas void of life and their voices falling on the deaf ears of European politicians – they endeavoured to work together to find sustainable solutions both for themselves and the sea. 

It was inspiring to listen to their successes, such as the fishermen from Sardinia working together to replenish depleted fish stocks in their area by establishing ‘no-take' zones in collaboration with scientists and local authorities. In Torre Guaceto and in Pantelleria, they even reduced the number of fishing days, resulting in increased fish catches and better income. 

Meanwhile, fishermen in Denia, Spain have been networking with the scientific community and the local municipality to monitor a marine reserve in Cape San Antonio. They also perform other sustainability initiatives like fighting against waste dumping and pollution, raising marine and fisheries public awareness, and fisheries tourism.

In Greece's Amorgos Island, local low-impact fishermen suffering from their country's financial crisis, overfishing and the sorry state of fish stocks are rising above the gloom to fight for the creation of a three-level protection zone around their area and a temporary cessation of fishing. 

These men and women face an alarming situation: with 90% of the fishing stocks in the Mediterranean being overfished, thousands of fishermen are in real danger of losing their profession. Their impoverished coastal communities are already feeling the consequences.  

Fortunately, they are not giving up! Even though European Ministers have repeatedly failed to manage this sea effectively and are missing the opportunity to protect our marine treasure, this gathering filled me with hope for the future.

"If we do not take action now, we may be the first generation of fishermen who will not be able to pass our profession on to our children," said Michalis Krossmann from Amorgos.

Participants therefore stressed the importance for EU Ministers to implement the common fisheries policy. They called for better regulation and control of fishing activities and the adoption of national management plans that reward fishermen using low impact gear and contribute most to the local economy. They identified the important role of the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and how they can benefit from funding opportunities and create more projects like those above that promote sustainability and offer tangible solutions to coastal communities.

With the Mediterranean in trouble, EU politicians need to step up, take responsibility for their actions and follow these fishermen's example. They owe it to them, their communities and the generations to come.

Angela Lazou is an Oceans Campaigner at Greenpeace Greece.