One of the ways to achieve this development is by bringing together the different stakeholders – local authorities, the private sector, NGOs, and others – in to a Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG). Taking into account the needs of its members a FLAG develops a strategy that seeks to increase employment, create new economic activity, and improve the quality of life within the community. FLAGs are a continuation from Axis 4 of the European Fisheries Fund (2007-2013), which saw the establishment of some 300 FLAGs across 21 EU countries and the funding of over 11,000 projects.
Members ideas contribute to overall strategy
Croatia which joined the EU in 2013, has seven registered FLAGs of which the oldest, Lostura, was founded in 2014 and is currently preparing its fisheries local development strategy. The strategy is based on the needs of the FLAG members. However, these have to be brought together in way that results in a coherent strategy with clear objectives that complement each other. At Lostura, Natasa Lakic and Ivana Stulina are contributing to the development of the strategy by speaking with the FLAG members to explain how the FLAG works in practice and how members can benefit and to find out their priorities and interests. Although it was founded in 2014 it is only now that Lostura is expecting the contract and a sum of money from the EMFF that will allow it to establish the secretariat office with the necessary equipment. Lostura covers an area encompassing five municipalities and has 18 members, the five municipalities as public stakeholders, 10 private companies, and three civil organisations, a membership constellation that is a prerequisite for support from the EMFF.
The FLAG already has an idea of the amount of funding it can expect and will tailor its strategy accordingly, says Ms Lakic. Although FLAGs are a relatively new development in Croatia, they are modelled on Local Action Groups which are a feature of European rural development policy and well established in Croatia. The area covered by Lostura is also part of one of the best known LAGs in the country, one that has been working since 2009 and that has over 100 projects. Since the overall purpose of the FLAG is the sustainable development of an area, any environmental impacts of its activities have to be accounted for in the FLAG’s strategy and are the responsibility of the partner in charge of the environment. In Lostura’s case the LAG is one of the civil organisation members and is responsible for the environment. Lostura is at the very initial stages of developing its strategy, says Ivana Stulina, who though employed by the LAG is also a volunteer at the FLAG. Once the information is collected from the members regarding their needs it will be processed and added to the strategy.
Developing skills rather than building structures
The strategy provides the overall goals of the FLAG, which are then achieved by implementing projects. In a year or so Lostura will issue a call for project ideas. These will be evaluated and the best ones to meet its aims will be approved for funding. The idea is to develop people’s skills rather than just to create infrastructure, says Ms Stulina. It is like following the Chinese proverb, give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. For example, we want to improve education in fisheries, find out what what is missing from the syllabus and explore ways of introducing it into the programme. Lostura will also focus on promoting the consumption of seafood, the health benefits that it offers, and the importance of the marine environment. Regarding the latter Ms Lakic is keen to develop projects that will protect marine features, such as beds of marine flora that attract fish.
First international fisheries event a major success
Lostura has already launched its activities. One of the biggest events it organised this year was a pilot project – the “International Fishing Expo”. Held at the end of May it included an exhibition of fishing and processing equipment as well as a conference for the fishing sector. The event was very well attended with senior officials including Ante Mišura, Assistant Minister of Agriculture, and his counterparts from two other ministries, the Mayors of Zadar County and of Biograd, representatives from the Prime Minister and the President of Parliament, and other leading figures from the fisheries sector.
The fishing conference included discussions on how modern technology could contribute to the productivity of the fishing industry while at the same time reducing pollution, as well as the importance of identifying suitable sites for the farming of fish and shellfish. Fishermen also used the occasion to protest at the costs of compliance with new legislation. A panel discussion was attended by experts including Ante Mišura; Nedo Vrgoč, Director of the Institute of Oceanography and Fisheries; Lav Bavčević, Senior Fisheries Coordinator, Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts; Krstina Mišlov, Croatian Chamber of Economics; Mato Obrean, Croatian Chamber of Trades and Crafts; and Branimir Baždarić, Advisor for Fisheries and Aquaculture. They answered questions about Croatia's operational programme for fisheries and aquaculture, its implementation, the costs involved, and the challenges it offered.
The session on fishing was followed by one on FLAGs where the speaker from the Ministry of Agriculture spoke about the formation of a national network of FLAGs, which would support cooperation among Croatian FLAGs, fostering the sharing of knowledge and best practices. The main problems facing the FLAGs were also discussed including the funding procedure which demands that the FLAGs make all payments up front and are then reimbursed later, a condition which places a lot of pressure on the FLAGs.
The conference was a big success in terms of what it achieved and certainly served to profile the organisers, Lostura. The benefits of already having organised a big international event will become increasingly apparent as Lostura develops and starts implementing its strategy.