Report: Half of EU fishers earn below national minimum wage

Docked European fishing vessels.

Forty-three percent of E.U. fishers earned below the national minimum wage in 2018, and for the 56 percent of crews manning vessels under 12 meters in length, as many as 70 percent earned less than the minimum wage, according to a new WWF report.

Written by MarFishEco Fisheries Consultants Ltd., the NGO’s study, “Socio-economic impacts of the EU Common Fisheries Policy,” finds that there is a high variability in socio-economic performance across the bloc’s fishing fleets. It offers the example that in 2018, Greece accounted for one of the highest levels of fisheries sector employment, but also provided wages well below the national minimum.

In addition to determining that the fishing sector was often failing to provide a fair standard of living, thereby overlooking one of the mandatory socio-economic objectives included in the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the report found that between 2012 and 2018, the fleets of 15 member states recorded net negative profits, while others had been performing well.

However, for those segments whose profits had grown, the share of those profits redistributed as wages to the workforce either remained the same or decreased, said WWF. Therefore, a better understanding of how profits are assessed is needed to guide policies that will improve socio-economic performance across member states.

By examining the payment and worker representation models of those member states with stronger performances, such as Belgium and France, examples of best practice could be applied elsewhere, it suggested.

Further criticism is aimed at E.U. operators fishing in distant waters, with the report stating that 19 of the 824 currently-active vessels are implicated in illegal fishing practices, with the majority of infringements for towing gear that impacts the seabed. It advises that Spain owns 11 of these vessels, followed by the Netherlands, Poland, and Portugal who have two vessels each, and finally France and Italy who each have one.

According to WWF, the Spanish vessels represent 4.6 percent of the country’s total external fleet, and this indicates the need for reinforced monitoring, control and surveillance measures, as well as national sanctioning schemes.

“Many fishers work for very poor pay in an industry which barely keeps afloat financially and is often on the wrong side of the law. This must not continue. The E.U. must base its fisheries policy on a better understanding of how work conditions and financial stability interact with environmental sustainability. People need to have a job which is fair and decent, as well as environmentally sustainable,” WWF Europe Head of Ocean Policy Antonia Leroy said.

WWF is calling for “current high rates of fuel tax exemption” for bottom-contacting gear to be eliminated on the grounds that they are “completely out of step” with the E.U. objective for good environmental status of its marine waters and the targets laid out in the E.U. Biodiversity Strategy.

A positive finding from WWF’s analysis was a marked decrease in the number of cases of non-compliance with the CFP between 2013 and 2018 as vessel inspections increased, indicating that continued investment in fleet monitoring and control is necessary.

With the E.U. evaluation of the CFP beginning this year, WWF’s assessment stresses the need for better understanding of the socio-economic dimension of fisheries policies in order to improve the sector.

Photo courtesy of Rudmer Zwerver/Shutterstock


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