Council deal on fisheries fund criticised for boosting overfishing

Fisheries ministers have reached a provisional agreement on the future fisheries subsidies scheme, reintroducing controversial modernisation subsidies.

More money to the fleet. Council negotiations went on until early in the morning. Photo: Council.

More money to the fleet. Council negotiations went on until early in the morning. Photo: Council.

Update 29 October: The agreed text has now been made available.

The deal
According to diplomatic sources, the main elements of the deal are:

* 15 percent of the EMFF, i.e. € 975 million, may be used for engine replacement, scrapping and temporary cessation. Engine replacement is limited to 3 percent of the fund, and can be used for vessels up to 24 meters. Member states will be obliged to make assessments of fleet capacity, and can only use scrapping subsidies if there is overcapacity. A vessel owner who receives scrapping money will lose his fishing license.

* Young fishermen starting a new business may get up to € 50,000 when buying a second-hand vessel.

* The Commission’s proposal to phase out storage subsidies by 2020 remains, although many member states wanted to keep those subsidies.

* The deal strengthens funding for aquaculture.

* Subsidies are conditional: you may not receive money if you have broken the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

* The deal does not decrease the amounts set aside for data collection and control.

The deal, adopted by Council early this morning after a night of negotiations, is called a ‘partial general approach‘. This is not a legally binding document, but it will cement the Council’s position ahead of the negotiations with the European Parliament. A council official said that the text will become official within the next few days.

Maria Damanaki. Photo: Council.

Maria Damanaki. Photo: Council.

The comments
Commissioner Maria Damanaki said the compromise achieved in the Council was less ambitious than the Commission’s original proposal, because the Council reintroduced “ineffective subsidies of the past”.

There is plenty of evidence that capacity-enhancing subsidies, such as engine modernisation, contribute to overfishing. Against this background, Markus Knigge, adviser to the Pew Environment Group, said: “This summer, the EU joined with world leaders at the Rio Summit and the U.N. General Assembly to call for the elimination of harmful fishing subsidies. EU fisheries ministers today ignored this commitment to the world community by proposing to continue subsidies that increase fishing capacity and thus contribute to overfishing.”

BBC News quoted a Commission source as saying “measures to support selective nets that avoided discards would be outweighed by funds for bigger engines.”

Le Monde quotes a French diplomat as saying that France was pleased with securing substantial aid to the fleet, while a German diplomat told Le Monde that an increase in capacity does not serve the goal of sustainable fisheries.

According to Le Monde, Germany, Belgium and Malta voted against the deal. A diplomatic source told CFP Reform Watch that Lithuania also said no to the deal. Their reasons varied. Germany reportedly turned down the agreement because it included modernisation subsidies to vessels longer than 12 meters, while Belgium, Malta and Lithuania are said to have wanted a deal more generous on modernisation.

Update 25 October: The Spanish fisheries minister, Miguel Arias Cañete, issued a statement saying “Spain has achieved all the objectives it brought to the talks on the future European Maritime and Fisheries Fund.”

Commenting in Le Monde, French Green MEP Jean-Paul Besset called Europe’s governments hypocritical. “In France and Spain there is always a strong social pressure to go fishing ever further, ever deeper. The governments are not able to tell the sector that they should rather fish less in order to fish better, and organise themselves to share the resource fairly,” he told the newspaper.

The next steps
Members of the European Parliament are now drafting their amendments to the Commission’s proposal. The preliminary timetable gives a deadline for amendments in December, which means the EMFF will not be voted in the Fisheries Committe or plenary until several months into 2013. In the end, the European Parliament and the Council will have to agree on the same text.

Commissioner Maria Damanaki said: “[The Commission’s] proposal is still on the table. We are now looking forward to the decision of the European Parliament to put more weight on the targets of our proposal.”

The document
Download the Partial General Approach on the EMFF.

Other sources
Cyprus presidency press release
Council press release
AFP news story: EU keeps controversial fishing subsidies

Axel Naver

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