Two new studies show: The fishing industry could be more profitable if fish stocks were rebuilt, and achieving this goal is what the public wants to fund with taxpayers money.
In the ongoing fisheries reform, the EU has been described by many as having a basic choice to make: should we fish more sustainably so that fish stocks can grow bigger, or should we maintain the current policy of overfishing and declining catches?
This choice comes with a second question: what shall the EU do with the money in the maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF)?
There is a correlation: The ministers and MEPs who are least keen on ending overfishing are often the same people who want to give fishing companies more money for buying new engines or new vessels, while those who call for urgent action to rebuild fish stocks generally want the money to be spent on research and control and helping fishermen make it through the transition period.
Green Budget Europe today released the results of a poll on fish subsidies in which 68 per cent of the respondents expressed that subsidies should be put toward stock maintaining and rebuilding instead of fleet-related issues.
The 7093 respondents in the poll were volunteers from six member states who participated in an online panel on YouGov.com.
The results show some difference between countries. The French respondents are more positive than the Germans to making subsidies to fishing business a top priority (20% vs 8%). This tendency reflects the last debate on fisheries subsidies in the Council. The discussion in Council will continue next week, when EU Fisheries Ministers are scheduled to reach a preliminary agreement on how the EU should subsidise the European fisheries sector in the future.
Even with subsidies, EU fishing companies are struggling to make a profit. One side argues that because the fishing fleet is in a precarious situation they need additional subsidies. The other side argues that if fish stocks were rebuilt to sustainable levels, the fishing fleet would be so profitable that it would not need subsidies. This argument got additional support today from a new report by Framian BV commissioned by WWF.
The report examines the socio-economic consequences of different scenarios: what would happen if we allowed current trends to continue and what would happen if fish stocks were allowed to recover to levels that could produce 20% or 40% bigger landings in 2022 compared to 2009?
With the recovery scenario, the report suggests the fisheries sector could generate an extra income of €2.1 billion per year, around 80% more, and the income per fisherman could be up to 50% higher on average than it is today.
The status quo scenarios, on the other hand, suggest that both landings and employment could drop by 30%.
These results are along the same lines as earlier studies. For example, the Commission’s impact assessments concerning the CFP reform proposal showed that rebuilding fish stocks would be economically beneficial. A study by the new economic foundation concluded that 100,000 additional fisheries jobs could be created if fish stocks were rebuilt to MSY levels.
In order to rebuild fish stocks and have larger catches in the future, short term sacrifices would have to be made by fishermen, because catches would have to be reduced during a few years.
In the debate on the EU fisheries reform, we have basically seen two kinds of policy proposals responding to this. One: because short term sacrifices are unpleasant, we should not rebuild fish stocks. The other: let us use the EMFF to finance the transition to sustainable fisheries, for example by helping fishermen diversify their business.
Which way to go is a political choice being debated in the European Parliament and the Council right now. Polls and studies like the two presented today are not necessarily the sources that ministers and MEPs choose to take into account.
Download the studies
Green Budget Europe: Poll results, Press release: EU Citizens Want Major Shift in Fisheries Subsidies.
Framian BV & WWF: Socio-Economic Benefits of a Bold EU Fisheries Reform (Short briefing)