Fishing subsidies: a cataclysm for the ocean

Today, Tuesday 18th June 2019, the Council of the European Union adopted its General Approach on the next European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which will determine the allocation of more than 6 billion euros of public subsidies to the fisheries and aquaculture sectors and to the protection of the marine environment for the 2021-2027 period. The Council’s position encourages the destruction of marine ecosystems and encourages poor management of European fisheries. Twenty years of efforts by the international community to ban harmful subsidies by 2020 have seen all hope disappear of a productive and healthy ocean. Years of negotiation at the UN since the Earth Summit in Rio in 1992, at the WTO (World Trade Organisation), and the advice given by many scientists to ban these harmful subsidies by 2020 are simply swept aside.

France has played a major role in this position: the government has made an alliance with Spain and Italy to violate the European Union’s international commitments by proposing to reintroduce and maintain the most harmful aid within the European Union, which had eliminated them. France is jeopardizing any chance of solving the problem of overfishing in the world. The position of the Council of the European Union will be scrutinized by our international partners and will partly determine the outcome of a multilateral agreement on the only universal remedy for overfishing: the prohibition of harmful subsidies.

Once again, the public position of France is only a facade. French Fisheries Minister Didier Guillaume said that ‘the EMFF is an essential tool for fighting overfishing and must respond to the current challenges in the fisheries sector: protecting biodiversity, improving the energy efficiency of ships, safety on board. The renewal of the generations of fishers must be a priority’. In the Council, he states that ‘the General Approach proposed today by the Presidency preserves this objective while integrating certain priorities defended by the Member States […]. The last European elections have shown how much the European citizens, the citizens of our Member States, are attached to ecological transition. They have shown us how much they are attached to the resources and to the preservation of the environment […]. We must hear them, we must listen to them, and, as the representatives of our citizens, we must take the measures that are the most well-balanced.’

‘This type of speech is scandalous. We are heading for disaster because we know that without the financial incentive provided by European and international funds, the problem of chronic overexploitation is largely solved. How is it possible to backtrack so far, ignoring all scientific advice, ignoring the wishes of WTO Member States, which, for the past 20 years, have been trying to ban these harmful subsidies. The government – with the greatest hypocrisy – is responsible for this treacherous position of France in the European Union’s commitment to sustainable fisheries’ responded Sabine Rosset, Director of BLOOM.

Against all odds, the European Commission speaks out against this decision of the Council and, we hope, should play a role in the forthcoming negotiations. EU Fisheries Commissioner Karmenu Vella reminded the Council of its duties and urged it to act with caution: ‘indeed, this position may jeopardize the sustainability of European fisheries and the international credibility of the European Union.’

It is now up to the European Parliament to decide on the follow-up to be given to the harmful position adopted by the Council, which wants to start Trilogue meetings quickly. Two scenarios are conceivable: either the European Parliament considers that the negotiations in Trilogue can begin; or the newly elected MEPs will decide that the process must start on a new basis, because it was the former Parliament that negotiated the current version of the regulation.


The major points decided by the Council:

Several points are of particular concern; in particular the disguised reintroduction of construction aides for vessels under 24 meters (currently 96% of the European fleet). While the initial objective of the Commission was to assist any young artisanal fisher (vessel of less than 12 meters long using passive gear such as lines, traps, or set nets) to purchase their first boat second-hand, this was wrecked under pressure from Member States and industrial fishing lobbies.

The preservation of modernization aids to change engines, and the abolition by the Council of the obligation of a physical control of engine power by Member States, also encourage overcapacity and overfishing. This is all the more worrying that a recent report from the European Commission has shown that ‘most Member States have in place an inefficient [engine power] verification system or no system at all’. The power measurements made by the Commission further indicate that half of the engines tested exceed the certified power. The modernization aides targeting all vessels under 24 meters will thus aggravate the problem of overcapacity in the European fishing fleets, considering that in some areas the capacity is already three times greater than what a sustainable fishery would allow, and that about 40% and 90% of stocks are still overexploited in the Northeast Atlantic and in the Mediterranean, respectively.

Many other points are also very problematic: the softening of the criteria for extraordinary and permanent cessation of activity, the too small part of the fund allocated to the control and the management of the fisheries… Indeed, the position of the Council of the European Union will be scrutinized by our international partners and will partly determine the outcome of a multilateral agreement at the WTO on the only universal remedy for overfishing: the prohibition of harmful subsidies.

  • Open letter from BLOOM to Emmanuel Macron:


On BLOOM’s website, over 4500 citizens expressed their dissatisfaction with France’s position:

  • The catastrophic vote of the European Parliament in April 2019:

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