Harmful subsidies will deplete EU seas, dooming fishers’ future

Posted on April, 04 2019

Today’s European Parliament plenary vote affirms immense step backwards to re-introduce environmentally harmful subsidies
Brussels, Belgium - 4 April, 2019

Today’s European Parliament plenary vote has affirmed the immense step backwards proposed by the Fisheries Committee [1] to re-introduce environmentally harmful subsidies in the post-2020 fund for the maritime and fisheries sector (EMFF). The vote ensures public financial support for the purchase of new fishing vessels and the modernisation of older ones, increasing the EU fleet’s capacity to fish which, in some waters, is already much larger than sustainable fishing would allow [2]. The voting result simultaneously approves funding for the destruction of fishing vessels (a practice commonly known as ‘scrapping’), in a contradictory effort to combat overfishing. 

Ignacio Fresco Vanzini, Marine Policy Public Affairs Officer at WWF European Policy Office said: “The reintroduction of these harmful subsidies directly contradicts the EU’s commitments to end overfishing and support sustainable business models for its fishers, and will jeopardise the future of the very industry the subsidies were intended to support. No portion of the €6 billion of taxpayer money that comprise the EMFF should go toward practices that continue to endanger our already overexploited marine environment and threaten the future of Europe’s fisheries.”

The EU prohibited harmful subsidies to construct new fishing vessels in 2004 as part of an effort to curb the destructive results of overfishing [3]. Reintroducing such subsidies following today’s voting result will be a direct violation of the EU’s international commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal on the oceans, seas and marine resources (SDG 14.6), which explicitly calls for the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to fleet overcapacity and overfishing by 2020. Their revival will also compromise the EU’s position in ongoing World Trade Organisation negotiations, where it has been actively advocating to end harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to global overfishing.

Moreover, the attempt to invest 25% of the fund on data collection and effective control of fishing activities has been rejected in today’s vote. This marks a missed opportunity to allocate resources which are desperately needed to tackle illegal fishing operations, collect scientific data on the status of the marine environment and fish stocks, and improve traceability of seafood products in the EU market. 

On the other hand, the Parliament has voted to steer investment of at least 25% of the EMFF to the protection and restoration of our marine environment. WWF has been calling on EU decision makers to direct the fund to address the environmental challenges at hand and support sustainable fisheries [4]. This result from today’s vote will ensure that citizen money is spent on activities that could improve long term sustainability, such as testing selective fishing gear, effectively managing marine protected areas, collecting marine litter and preventing the accidental deaths of sensitive marine species.

Fresco Vanzini continued: “While it is promising to see that the future EU budget will support activities that reduce the environmental footprint of fisheries, tackle marine pollution and increase the efficacy of marine protected areas, the re-introduction of harmful fisheries subsidies will completely undermine these efforts. Such subsidies are responsible for the state of overfishing and fish stock degradation that we face today - they must not, under any circumstance, return.”

In the coming months, EU fisheries ministers will adopt their own position at Council level and enter negotiations with the European Parliament and Commission to agree the final text of the EMFF Regulation. WWF appeals to EU national governments to remove all harmful subsidies re-introduced by Parliament today, to increase support for data collection and control of fishing activities, while securing the decision to invest a crucial part of the fund on activities to help protect and restore the marine environment.

Notes to editors:
In January 2019, WWF submitted a briefing together with BirdLife International, ClientEarth and Seas At Risk to the EU co-legislators of the EMFF to lead on the effective transformation of its post-2020 strategy to ensure healthy and productive seas for present and future generations. This included recommendations for which aspects of the European Commission proposal to support and which to amend: http://awsassets.panda.org/downloads/epo___emff___joint_ngo_position_jan_2019.pdf

  1. http://www.wwf.eu/media_centre/?uNewsID=344333
  2. See FishSec’s report: “Too many vessels chase too few fish”, 2018 https://www.fishsec.org/app/uploads/2018/10/Fishsec_capacity_report_2018_final.pdf
  3. Common Fisheries Policy reform of 2002.
  4. https://www.euractiv.com/section/agriculture-food/opinion/the-eu-must-bury-the-debate-on-harmful-fisheries-subsidies-once-and-for-all/ 

Larissa Milo-Dale
Marine Communications Officer
Re-introduction of fisheries subsidies will commit EU seas to further depletion of fish, dooming fishers’ futures
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