By Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris
Published on 25 October, 2012
Meeting in Luxembourg earlier this week, EU ministers from the 27 member states hammered out a provisional deal to fund a reformed Common Fisheries Policy. The new European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF), to run from 2014 to 2020, will replace the existing European Fisheries Fund (EFF).
For Frédéric Cuvillier, France's fish minister, the provisional deal agreed by the council includes “constructive proposals made by France. The fund is essential...to achieve sustainable and competitive objectives.”
Such proposals included reinforcing public aid to the fleet, notably by modernizing the vessels.
And speaking after the EU Council concluded, Scotland's Fisheries Secretary Richard Lochhead also hailed the agreement a success. “[It] ensures the seafood industry, inshore and offshore fleets and the aquaculture sector can continue to use the fund in its new form to expand and create new jobs.”
But environmentalists widely condemned the agreement as a move that ensures EU public funding contributes to overcapacity and overfishing.
Commenting on the agreement by ministers, conservation group WWF said the ministers had “failed.”
“EU governments are keeping to business-as-usual by using taxpayers money to subsidize a spate of destructive, unrealistic and unjustified fishing and aquaculture activities,” said Roberto Ferrigno at WWF's European Policy Office.
According to the WWF statement only five member states — Germany, Sweden, Denmark, the UK and the Netherlands — “opposed aid for modernization and supported more aid for data collection and control.”
And Saskia Richartz from campaigning group Greenpeace claimed “the worst thing is that the industrial fleet, which causes the most damage to our seas, is likely to swallow up most of the cash, with sustainable fishermen losing out.”
While condemning the ministers’ moves Vanya Vulperhorst, policy advisor at Oceana Europe said: “This stubborn refusal to move away from the status quo is a disgrace that brings into question the need to waste more time reforming the Common Fisheries Policy.”
Overcapacity — too many fishing boats for the volume of fish that can be caught — is still a major obstacle to achieving sustainable fisheries. And a recent report on member states’ efforts to balance fishing capacity with fishing opportunities, published by the European Commission, “confirmed the very slow pace at which the EU fishing fleet continues to decrease in size.”
“At face value, the commission...has a point” because despite subsidies for vessel scrapping schemes, “fleet overcapacity remains a stubborn problem in some fisheries,” said the UK's National Federation of Fishermen's Organizations.
But, suggests the fishermen’s group, where there has been a “problem of endemic fleet overcapacity, where compliance and adequate profitability difficult to achieve, and the short-term losses associated with many conservation initiatives difficult to accept,” they claim the evidence at fishery level suggests “well designed decommissioning schemes can break this spiral of decline.” They cite large-scale fleet decommissioning schemes for the “progressive rebuilding of the North Sea cod stocks year-on-year” and the “meteoric rise of the North Sea plaice stocks.”
The NFFO attests the “current orthodoxy” which sees decommissioning as a waste of tax payers money are focused at either the broad European level or the level of the individual vessel. “A focus at the fishery level leads to radically different conclusions.”
At a seminar in London in mid-October a representative from the European Commission told the audience: “We've seen people [France, and Spain, for example] wanting to re-introduce medicines already shelved by the Commission, such as aid for scrapping vessels, even subsidies for new vessels. In light of overcapacity, this is just absurd.”