Finalist, Seafood Champion Awards Leadership Category
Maria Damanaki head shot

In 2010, when Maria Damanaki took up her position as Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries for the European Union, only 5 species of fish in the European seas enjoyed healthy status. In 2014 at the end of her mandate, more than 27 species had recovered to a healthy state.

She introduced a new European Common Fisheries Policy aimed at bringing fisheries to sustainable practices by 2020. She also established a system of international cooperation between USA, Japan, EU and almost all the countries involved in fisheries, for the seafood traceability and certification. This system can block the imports of fish caught illegally and protects the right of European citizens to fish sustainably, trade responsibly and consume the valuable seafood.

Today, Maria serves as Executive Director for Oceans at The Nature Conservancy.
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Since early 2015, Maria Damanaki has been General Executive Director for Oceans at The Nature Conservancy (TNC), an international non-profit organization, where she consistently and single-mindedly pursues the important objective of achieving sustainable oceans through the strategy of blue growth and planning. This strategy – her own brainchild, which she tirelessly pursued as European Commissioner from 2010 to 2014 – consists of linking the sustainability of marine systems to social reality and global challenges such as poverty, job creation, combating climate change and financial stability. This is achieved by promoting and implementing specific funding programs on the sustainable upgrading of the marine environment, with the active participation of local authorities, coastal communities, industry linked to the sea and its resources, and professionals from the sector. The recent agreement reached by the TNC, the government of Seychelles and the Paris Club in spring 2015 to buyback debt in return for marine conservation programs is a typical example of this policy.

As European Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Maria Damanaki triggered a major shift in European policy towards greater sustainability and upgrading of the marine environment. Her crowning achievement was the European Union’s adoption of the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy, which has now been in force for a year or so. It is exemplified as follows: In 2010 when Maria Damanaki took up her position as Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, only 5 species of fish in the European seas enjoyed healthy status. In 2014 at the end of her mandate, more than 27 species had recovered to a healthy state. Maria Damanaki fought persistently to achieve the adoption of the hundreds of initiatives taken in the sustainable fishing and fish farming sector in Europe, cooperating widely with the fishing industry and coastal communities as well as with the fisheries products processing and marketing industry, social partners in the member states, non-governmental organizations and such stakeholders as could contribute to achieving the objectives of the Reform.

Maria Damanaki and her work constitute an outstanding source of inspiration and guidance on matters relating to the sustainability of marine products and healthy marine systems and unequivocally deserve the Seafood Champion Award for leadership. Political leaders from the international community, economic operators as well as the full range of social actors involved in the exploitation of marine resources have been and continue to be mobilized behind this approach and outstanding, quantifiable results have been achieved that open up new avenues and prospects for the future.

What local and/or international partners does Maria Damanaki work with?

With the leaders and services of the European Commission, the governments and competent authorities of the USA, Japan, Australia, China, India and South Africa and of most developing countries. With most universities, research centers and scientific establishments dealing with marine issues worldwide. With social partners at national, European and global level from the fisheries sector. With all European, international and national NGOs involved with the sea and the environment. With a wide range of representatives of coastal communities in Europe and worldwide.

How well does Maria Damanaki and her work demonstrate the qualities of the category?

The shift in European marine policy towards greater sustainability as reflected in the reform of the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy from 2014 onwards constitutes the best example of creative leadership in the last decade at least. Seen through from beginning to end by Maria Damanaki, this was a complex project. It initially came up against strong reactions, that she herself managed to overcome through exhaustive dialogue and clear strategy. The adoption of the reform by the EU bodies was recognized as being of particular significance at global level by the entire international press and political leadership.

In what ways has Maria Damanaki positively affected, or mitigated negative impacts of, the seafood industry?

Key elements of the Common Fisheries Policy Reform:

  • Introduction of Maximum Sustainable Yield in the exploitation of fish stocks
  • (Gradual) banning of discards
  • New fish marketing standards. Marking, labeling
  • Development of sustainable fish farming
  • New financial instrument for small-scale fishing
  • Enhanced scientific knowledge about stocks. Decisions based exclusively on scientific advice
  • Decentralization of fisheries-related decision taking from central to regional level

In what way could Maria Damanaki’s story inspire others and communicate successes achieved in sustainable seafood?

  • By creating a positive precedent in fisheries and sustainable marine exploitation policy in the European Union and its Member States
  • By guiding the European Union institutions in implementing these decisions and achieving direct, positive results at both environmental and financial level
  • By providing an example for third countries and similar program agreements
  •  By bringing influence to bear on social partners and social organizations worldwide

How would Maria Damanaki’s work serve as a replicable model for others who want to have a similar impact?

Maria Damanaki’s work as EU Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries and her short but particularly productive activity as TNC General Executive Director for Oceans as briefly described above can constitute a model for policy implementation by others as well as a standard for sustainable development strategy for countries, regions, organizations and communities worldwide

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