“If my life has been characterised by one thing, it’s serendipity,” Belgium-based Brian O’Riordan, policy adviser at Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE) told Fishing News. “So often, being in the right place at the right time has steered me in a particular direction.

“I was always interested in life underwater, and as a youngster I was a great fan of Jacques Cousteau, and Hans and Lotte Haas.

“When I left school, I wanted to study some form of biology that related to the marine or freshwater environment. An event that had a big influence was the major oil spill caused by the grounding of the Torrey Canyon off the coast of Cornwall. That led to an increasing awareness of human impact and pollution of the marine environment, and the reliance on oil. All that took me on a journey towards ecology.”

Over the course of a career spanning almost 50 years, Brian has experienced many areas of the industry – including a spell fishing out of Lymington, Hampshire, returning to education to study fisheries management, marketing smoked fish, and working on fisheries projects overseas.

It was a small-scale fisheries programme in Sri Lanka that set Brian on the path to his current role. “That project was an eye- opener – how it tried to build on what fishermen were already doing, and their knowledge and the way they fished using traditional vessels and working off the beach.”

After working with the charity Intermediate Technology Development Group for 15 years, Brian joined the International Collective in Support of Fishworkers, which launched the Coalition for Fair Fisheries Agreements, relocating to Brussels in the process.

As part of his work on the 2012 CFP reform, he was approached to help support a European network of small-scale fishers to have their say in the process. That led to the idea of forming an organisation dedicated to serving the interests of small-scale fishers – LIFE.

“When Jerry Percy approached me in 2015 to join him in setting up LIFE with an office in Belgium, it was a no-brainer – the obvious next logical step in my career.”

The organisation currently represents 33 associations from 15 member states across Europe, and aims to achieve fair fisheries, healthy seas and vibrant communities by uniting small-scale fisheries – which results in a diverse range of responsibilities for Brian.

“My job is a bit of a juggling act. A typical day normally begins between 8am and 8.30am. I’ll start by going through my emails and checking my diary to see what’s coming up.

“There are always meetings to prepare for, which could be with NGOs, with Commission officials or with our members. So there’s preparation for those – the reading up, and discussions with my colleagues, developing positions on different issues, and how to present them.

“There are so many events and so many consultations happening. For example, this week we’ve discussions with a consortia of project partners, Fish-X, with whom we’re involved in a project to promote VMS on small-scale fishing craft and developing electronic logbooks with fishers. We’ve also got a meeting with the Commission’s Marine Spatial Planning Unit on the blue economy and offshore wind farms, and we’re developing a position with small-scale fishers on that.”

Brian in Marrakesh for a General Fisheries Commission for the Mediterranean meeting on the Regional Plan of Action for Small-Scale Fisheries – a working group on the role of women in fisheries. “The learning experiences I had from the 1980s up until the early 2000s was networking, policy, advocacy and promoting small-scale fisheries as an important productive activity in its own right, not just an adjunct to industrial fishing.”

Another part of Brian’s job is managing the finances. “I have to keep a constant eye on our bank balance as part of the administrative and bookkeeping tasks – ensuring our cashflow so that we’ve enough to pay salaries, and so the projects we’re working on are receiving the finance at the right time.

“We are a small team in LIFE, sharing tasks and combining our expertise. So in addition to admin and policy, I also engage in marketing and communications with colleagues, honing LIFE’s messages and positions on a diverse range of subjects, policies and campaigns, ensuring consistency and accuracy and with the best interests of our members in mind.

“I work closely with Claudia Orlandini, our communications and outreach officer here in Brussels, on content and approach for our website and social media, and drafting and reviewing articles and publications.

“There’s a multitude of tasks and issues which you have to be on top of – from the finances to the administration, to the content of the copy that’s going out. That’s particularly important when you’re lobbying.

“Our eyes are also on what’s coming up in 2024/5, particularly the consequences of the political swing to the right – and working out how we need to respond.”

Brian, who gained Belgian citizenship in 2017, outside the Berlaymont building in central Brussels with Claudia Orlandini (centre), LIFE’s senior communications and outreach officer, and Barcelona-based Marta Cavallé (left), LIFE’s executive secretary.

Despite the enormous challenges, and the impact of the ever-changing political climate on Brian’s job, his focus remains on the organisation’s members – with a little help from Fishing News.

“At the end of the day, it’s easy to disappear into the Brussels bubble, and get carried away with the politics of fishing, forgetting about what’s actually happening on the ground, and the priorities of our members in their countries.

“An important part of my day is making sure I’m in touch with our members and staying up to date by reading the fishing press. That’s where FN and other publications come in. They help to take me back to what’s happening in the fishery.”

This story was taken from the latest issue of Fishing News. For more up-to-date and in-depth reports on the UK and Irish commercial fishing sector, subscribe to Fishing News here or buy the latest single issue for just £3.30 here

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