EU subsidies have ‘failed to shrink fishing fleet’
The European Fisheries Fund (EFF) has largely failed in its objective to reduce the overcapacity of the EU’s fishing fleets, according to a damning report from the European Court of Auditors that is to be published on Monday (12 December).
The EFF’s ban on direct funding for building new fishing vessels was largely undermined by funding for technical improvements that increased the capacity of existing ships, the report observes. Subsidies for decommissioning ships failed, with less than a quarter of the allotted aid being used. Those vessels for which subsidies were paid out were mostly old and inactive. Europe’s fishing fleet is still estimated to be two to three times the size appropriate for sustainable fishing levels.
Having been given advance notice of the auditors’ criticisms, the European Commission on Friday (2 December) presented a proposal to reform the fund for the next multiannual funding period (MFF), 2014-20. The €6.5 billion ‘Maritime and Fisheries Fund’ is the final element of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform package, and seeks to address declining fish stocks better than its predecessor, which ends in 2013.
Acknowledging that funding for decommissioning ships has not worked, the Commission has proposed to end the practice. The proposal would block funding for technical improvements on ships that are part of oversized fleets, but other ships could still get money for improvements. New funds will also go toward building facilities at ports to make the best use of unwanted catches that would otherwise be discarded.
Funding will also be used to promote income diversification for fishermen to encourage them to engage in other activities. Funding would be conditional on the compliance of member states and operators with the reformed CFP. Fishermen who break the rules could be made to repay aid.
Campaign groups, including Greenpeace, have welcomed elements of the proposal, but have concerns that it leaves the existing subsidy regime largely intact – with the EU remaining one of the world’s top three subsidisers of the fisheries sector.
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They are also worried about a proposed extension of funding to the growing aquaculture sector.
Markus Knigge of the Pew Environment Group said that continued funding for ship improvements will mean more egregious examples of counterproductive spending. “Between 2000 and 2008, for example, the EU provided €33.5 million in financial aid for the modernisation of bluefin tuna fishing vessels, which target a species that is so overfished it is classified as endangered,” he said.
The European Parliament, given increased powers over fisheries under the Lisbon treaty, will vote on the proposal in the second half of 2012. MEPs hope to secure agreement with member states in early 2013. The Commission will present the proposal to national agriculture and fisheries ministers when they meet next week (15-16 December).
Battle over fish quota
The ministers will be engaged in their annual tussle over fishing quotas, haggling over fishing quotas for the North Sea, the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea. Quotas for the Baltic Sea were agreed in October. The ministers are also expected to approve a deal agreed on Monday (5 December) with Norway on shared fish stocks in the North Sea. This would introduce a ban on discards in the Skagerrak Strait between Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
The Commission proposed quotas to ensure sustainable fish stocks in November. But some member states may resist a proposed 15%-25% cut in the quotas for all fish stocks where traditional scientific information on sustainability is not available. WWF, a campaign group, said a blanket cut would undermine the CFP reform proposal’s emphasis on increasing regional control of fisheries.
“As the proposal stands, there are not exceptions recognising local initiatives,” said Louize Hill, WWF’s head of fisheries policy. “In some fisheries, work has been done to improve understanding, where scientists can get local expertise.” But she said a 25% cut was a good idea for small fish stocks where there is no available data and there are no local initiatives to reduce the size of the catch.
The ministers are also expected to authorise three new varieties of genetically modified crops in Europe by deciding not to object to the Commission’s proposal.