Europe must stop funding destructive fisheries

A new study by BLOOM has just been published in the international and peer-reviewed scientific journal Marine Policy concerning the illegal public financing by Dutch authorities of electric fishing in the North Sea. This study is the scientific validation of the extent of the financial scandal surrounding the development of this destructive fishing method, a scandal that we revealed on 6 November 2018. Indeed, while the European Commission finally acknowledged on 4 February 2019 that the majority of the Dutch derogations were illegal and requested the opening of a formal infringement procedure, we demonstrated that at least 21.5 million euros of public subsidies were allocated by the Netherlands since 2007 to support, legitimize and develop electric fishing, despite the prohibition of this fishing method in Europe since 1998. The Dutch State fraudulently granted these subsidies and was, moreover, the only country to not openly publish the European public aides allocated to its fleets.

> Read our scientific publication [1]

Electric fishing was mainly financed through two European fisheries financial instruments, namely the European Fisheries Fund (EFF, 2007-2016) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF, 2014-2020). The publication of this new study is timely, as the renewal of the EMFF is currently under negotiation. On coming 3 April, the 751 MEPs will be asked to take a position­ — in a high-risk vote for marine ecosystems and artisanal fishers — on the allocation of over six billion euros of public subsidies for the 2021-2027 period.

For a ban on harmful subsidies

Since 2015, BLOOM has been campaigning for compliance with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal n°14, in particular for a binding international agreement to ban subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing. “The case of electric fishing is symptomatic of what should never be subsidized: private companies that seek only more profit at the expense of marine ecosystems and artisanal fishers” alerts Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s scientific director and lead author of the study. He adds: “by funding these practices, not only do we maintain a pattern of resource and job destruction, but we also prevent virtuous practices from emerging. We must change entirely the way we use public money”.

The importance of transparency

This work was only made possible by obtaining data that were long concealed by the Dutch government and that were only published thanks to BLOOM’s insistent requests. This is why complete transparency on the use of public funds is at the center of BLOOM’s concerns and actions, as evidenced by our recent summoning of the French State to court for abuse of power. France refuses to disclose ‘public information’ data” explains Valérie Le Brenne, project leader on public subsidies and PhD candidate at BLOOM. “Without transparency, there will be no real public policy for the preservation of living resources and employment, which is one of the major issues at stake in the negotiations on the renewal of the EMFF“.

An international agenda to follow

In September 2015, Member States of the European Union pledged unanimously at the UN General Assembly to ban, by 2020, harmful subsidies responsible for overcapacity and overfishing. It is high time to take this matter seriously and to act with a real purpose. Grave excesses, like the funding of electric fishing, must stop immediately and MEPs must take the measure of their historical role in the protection of these international objectives during the vote on 3 April.

Short chronology of BLOOM’s campaign

  • On 13 February 2019, the European Parliament, the European Commission and the Council of the EU agreed on a ban on electric fishing in June 2021 and on a massive reduction of derogations over the transition period.
  • As a reminder, BLOOM revealed in October 2017, by filing a complaint against the Netherlands, that 83% of electric fishing licences were illegal. On 1 February 2019, following an order by the European Ombudsman, the Commission confirmed the relevance of BLOOM’s complaint and declared wanting to open an official infringement procedure against the Netherlands. The final decision rests with the College of Commissioners. Jean-Claude Juncker, questioned by BLOOM, still did not specify when this decision would be taken.
  • In January 2018, BLOOM revealed that the decision by the European Commission to authorise electric fishing, a practice considered until 2006 as a destructive fishing method, had been deliberately taken AGAINST scientific advice.
  • On 16 January 2018, after a superhuman effort by BLOOM and a coalition of small-scale fishers and NGOs, the European Parliament voted for a total and definitive ban on electric fishing in Europe.
  • In June 2018, BLOOM obtained the file on subsidies allocated to the Dutch fishing sector and reveals in November that the development, in majority illegal, of electric fishing in Europe, was facilitated by 21.5 million euros of public subsidies. BLOOM also filed a complaint and asked for the opening of an investigation for fraud to the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) relating to these improper subsidies.
  • On 6 November 2018, failing a response from the institutions concerning these licences and illegal subsidies, BLOOM seized the European Ombudsman for maladministration and renewed its complaint to OLAF. Required to reply before 31 January 2019, the European Commission eventually confirmed to BLOOM that its accusations were substantiated: the licences are illegal and the Commission’s Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries requested the opening of an infringement procedure against the Netherlands.
  • To find all key dates of our campaign, visit our campaign page: http://www.bloomassociation.org/en/our-actions/our-themes/electric-pulse-fishing/blooms-campaign/

MORE INFORMATION ON PUBLIC SUBSIDIES AND OUR RESEARCH PROGRAMS

MORE INFORMATION ON OUR SUMMONING OF THE FRENCH STATE TO COURT

[1] All data and analysis scripts used for this study are available at the following address: https://data.mendeley.com/datasets/vv238m6wjh/1.

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