WWF slams return of “harmful” EU fisheries subsidies

European Union fisheries ministers have adopted a strikingly regressive position on the post-2020 funding strategy for the maritime and fisheries sector, WWF has warned.

The NGO said the “partial general approach” negotiating position for the 2021-2027 European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), agreed at the European Council on 18 June, endorses the reintroduction of harmful subsidies for vessels up to 24 meters in length, and cautioned that this type of financial support would risk increasing the existing fleet’s activities in already heavily-overfished waters.

It believes that the proposed subsidies would encourage not only the purchasing of new fishing vessels, but also the modernization of older ones with more powerful motors, which will extend the reach of the E.U. fleet, which in some areas is “already up to three times larger than sustainable fishing allows.”

Samantha Burgess, head of marine policy at the WWF European Policy Office, questioned how the E.U. could 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 EUR 6 billion [USD 6.7 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 E.U.’s global influence means that this significant backwards step will spill over to the international community, making the E.U. member states responsible for perpetuating unsustainable fishing practices worldwide,” she said. 

WWF is now calling on E.U. fisheries ministers to amend their position as they enter negotiations on the EMFF with the European Parliament and commission in the coming months. It insists that the agreed final text of the EMFF Regulation must not endorse the renewal and modernization of the E.U. fishing fleet, but should instead invest in the protection and restoration of life in the ocean, and support fishers whose practices have low or no impact on the environment. 

Announcing the agreed partial general approach, Petre Daea, minister of agriculture and rural development of Romania and president of the council, said he believed the E.U.’s approach was a fair one.

“The EMFF is key to ensuring proper implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy's objectives,” Daea said. “In the past, its effectiveness was undermined by complex rules and red tape, but the council is committed to make it a flexible and workable tool at the service of European fishermen."

The negotiating position is defined as "partial" as it excludes budget-related and horizontal issues that are currently being negotiated in the E.U.'s next multiannual financial framework (MFF) covering the period 2021 to 2027.

The agreed position will expand the scope of eligible operations to include those related to investments in on-board safety, labor conditions and energy efficiency, and to the acquisition or importation of fishing vessels, as well as the replacement or modernization of engines for vessels up to 24 meters. 

These derogations will be subject to very restrictive conditions so as to avoid any increase in capacity and to fully respect the CFP objectives, said the council. 


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