Reintroducing harmful fisheries subsidies marks backslide in EU leadership

Posted on 18 June 2019

Fishers will be the first to pay the price for an ocean devoid of life.
Brussels, Belgium - 18 June, 2019

EU fisheries ministers have adopted a strikingly regressive position on the post-2020 funding strategy for the maritime and fisheries sector (EMFF). The partial General Approach, agreed on 18 June, endorses the reintroduction of harmful subsidies for vessels up to 24 metres in length. This type of financial support risks increasing the existing fisheries fleet’s activities in already heavily overfished waters, negatively impacting the marine environment and the long-term viability of the fisheries sector. The agreement directly undermines EU objectives to create sustainable business models for fishers and to end overfishing, as laid out in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) [1].

The proposed subsidies would encourage not only the purchasing of new fishing vessels, but also the modernisation of older ones for more powerful motors which will extend the reach of the EU fleet. As the fleet is, in some areas, already up to three times larger than sustainable fishing allows [2], this increase to EU fishing capacity will further endanger the health of our ocean and, as a consequence, the future of European fishers.

Dr Samantha Burgess, Head of Marine Policy at WWF European Policy Office said: “How can the EU hope to deliver sustainable seafood, support the long-term viability of coastal communities, and rebuild ocean health and fish populations with subsidies that will actively support overfishing? The €6 billion EMFF is comprised of public money, and these proposals are hugely out of step with current societal concern for the health of our ocean. The EU’s global influence means that this significant backwards step will spill over to the international community, making the EU Member States responsible for perpetuating unsustainable fishing practices worldwide.” 

Given the EU fleet’s historical and current records of overfishing in many areas, it is simply irresponsible for Member States to jeopardise the health of fish populations and thus the future of the very industry the EMFF is intended to support. Fishers will be the first to pay the price for an ocean devoid of life. It is shocking that the EU Council has not been more ambitious in its agreement, with such weak elements including the minimal CO₂ reduction target of just 15% per vessel being upgraded. 

WWF calls on EU fisheries ministers to amend their position as they enter negotiations on the EMFF with the European Parliament and Commission in the coming months. The agreed final text of the EMFF Regulation must not endorse the renewal and modernisation of the overall profitable EU fishing fleet, but instead invest in the protection and restoration of life in our ocean, and support fishers whose practices have low or no impact on the environment. The EU and its Member States must steer public resources to deliver a healthy and resilient ocean for citizens and economies of both present and future generations.

Notes to editors:

The EU Council’s agreement does not come as a surprise, as it follows suit of the European Parliament and Fisheries Committee votes on the matter earlier this year. This process has not been without backlash and WWF, in unity with Surfrider Foundation Europe, Bloom, ClientEarth and Seas At Risk responded to the Joint Declaration of France, Italy and Spain supporting renewed fisheries subsidies from the EMFF with a set of clear recommendations on how the EU can lead the transformation of its post-2020 strategy to ensure healthy and productive seas for present and future generations, including:
  • Granting the low-impact fishing sector priority access to fishing areas, as committed to in the CFP.
  • Guaranteed reporting and open access to information on how the EMFF is being allocated.
  • No additional aid for fleet renewal, nor for vessel modernisation.
Over 15 years ago, the EU prohibited harmful subsidies to support the construction of new fishing vessels as part of their efforts to curb overfishing [3]. Since then, the EU also formally adopted the sustainable fishing objectives laid out in the Common Fisheries Policy and made international commitments to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with SDG 14.6 explicitly calling for the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to fleet overcapacity and overfishing. The EU Council partial General Approach directly contradicts these agreements. It also compromises the EU’s position in ongoing World Trade Organisation negotiations where it has been actively advocating to end harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to fleet overcapacity and overfishing globally.

  1. Common Fisheries Policy reform of 2002
  2. “Too many vessels chase too few fish”, FishSec 2018 
  3. “Healthy Fisheries, Sustainable Trade - Crafting new rules on fishing subsidies in the World Trade Organization”, WWF 2004 Position Paper,

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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