Brussels urged to act with fishing industry being choked by coronavirus prevention measures
The preventative measures taken by authorities to hinder the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus are making it extremely hard for fishermen in the European Union to continue their operations and to supply markets with essential food products, fishing industry leaders have warned.
In a joint position paper sent to the European Commission – DG Mare on 17 March, Europêche and the European Association of Fish Producers Organisations (EAPO) said the fishing sector has been confronted by severe operational problems such as port and equipment supply restrictions, logistical difficulties, and soaring freight prices on shipments of fish.
At the same time, the sector is concerned by the collapse of first-sale fish prices. This is largely attributed to the closure of restaurants, schools, businesses, and food markets, and the strict limitations imposed on travel and tourism.
The paper highlights that in Ireland, the nephrops, whitefish, and brown crab fleets that rely heavily on exports to the Chinese, Italian, Spanish, and French markets have seen huge price drops and market closures.
This is also the case for other species in many countries and has led to some fishing activities being suspended and the whole seafood industry sector being affected, the letter said.
For pelagic fisheries, another issue is the availability of cold storage that is running low, it said.
Recognizing these problems have only just begun and will “inevitably and without doubt worsen” in the coming weeks as the disease spreads, Europêche and EAPO have asked the commission to introduce legislative changes that will enable fishermen to carry over more than the existing 10 percent of their fishing quotas to next year and for fair intervention prices for unsold fish.
The document calls for measures that meet the logistical needs of crews and ships, such as the transport of crews, equipment, and health protocols tailored to each fleet. It also wants guarantees that masks and gloves will be supplied to catching vessels, fish markets, and auction halls.
“Our fishermen are doing a fantastic job. While far away from their homes and families, they continue bringing healthy seafood to our plates in a very challenging environment. They deserve the full attention of our public authorities to secure their safety, their economies, and the continuity of the food supply,” Europêche Managing Director Daniel Voces said.
Europêche is also urging policymakers to modify the fisheries fund regulation in order to quickly adjust and provide financial aid for those fishing companies that are forced to cease their operations amid the crisis. In addition to these mitigation measures, member states are being asked to introduce national measures such as VAT reduction, suspension of social security contributions and tax exemptions for the sector. Additionally, Europêche has requested that the Brexit transition period is extended by at least another 12 months, although it acknowledged that such a decision is contingent upon the United Kingdom’s agreement.