Six billion euros to protect or to destroy the ocean?

On Thursday 7 March 2019, the 27 members of the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament will have to rule on a European Regulation of the utmost importance for the future of the ocean. The MEPs will vote by secret ballot[1] on what the 6 billion euros of the 2021-2027 budget for the European fisheries and aquaculture sector and marine environment protection will be allocated to. The next European and Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) will shape the economic model of activities depending on the extraction of marine natural resources and ocean farming until 2027,[2] which is almost exactly the deadline given by the IPCC to make all our means of production and patterns of consumption compatible with the biological limits of the planet and climatic imperatives.

While 69% of the fish stocks are overexploited In Europe,[3] while the unfair competition of the industrialists has almost been the end of the smaller businesses, while half the jobs in the fisheries sector have been lost in the last thirty years,[4] the European financial tool, due to the size of its endowment, has the power to end the “vicious circle in which European fisheries have been trapped for decades”[5] and to implement Europe’s internal or international commitments, in particular protect the marine environment, restore fish populations,[6] eliminate harmful subsidies that encourage overfishing[7] and put an end to destructive fishing practices.[8]

Unfortunately, the innumerable amendments (a total of 1028) tabled by the MEPs suggest the worst. The legislative proposal of the European Commission has opened a breach through which the MEPs entered forcefully by proposing retrograde amendments, such as the possibility to reintroduce public aides to the renewal and modernisation for certain vessel categories. This was done knowing perfectly well that these harmful aides were already banned by the EU as of 2005, precisely to fight the overcapacity of fleets and overfishing. These amendments, supported in particular by the Spanish MEP and Rapporteur of the Regulation, Gabriel Mato (EPP), and Alain Cadec (EPP), President of the Fisheries Committee, are dangerous because they feign to help the small-scale fisheries, while actually opening the Pandora box of the aides to fleet renewal that risk leading the European fisheries on the path of ruin.

Public subsidies for construction and modernisation have been identified by all the world’s experts and governments meeting at the UN as the main cause of overfishing in the world. At the global level, researchers estimate that 60% of subsidies allocated to the fishing sector are harmful aides that encourage the overcapacity of fleets and inexorably lead to the overexploitation of resources. Aides for construction, renewal and modernisation are typically part of the category of harmful subsidies that encourage fishing beyond the economic and biological equilibrium.

“The MEPs are using the excuse of the real aging of the fleets and of climate change to justify investments that overcapitalize the sector and lead to the ruin of the marine environment and of small-scale fisheries. They cannot free themselves of the totally obsolete productivist system” notes Frédéric Le Manach, BLOOM’s Scientific Director. “The OECD has shown that aides that reduce fishing costs cause the greatest increase in fishing effort and therefore overfishing. The only beneficial subsidies are those that drive activities to be sustainable: subsidies that strengthen fisheries management, monitoring, scientific data collection and, of course, protection of the marine environment and of species.

“At this very moment, the European Union is working at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) to obtain a multilateral agreement aiming at banning harmful subsidies that encourage overfishing and overcapacity,[9] and the European Parliament is suggesting reintroducing them! We are beyond schizophrenia” exclaims Mathieu Colléter, responsible of science and public policy at BLOOM. “Even if these amendments are rejected – a goal we will work at with all our strength alongside other European NGOs, the simple fact that these amendments were tabled and co-signed discredits entirely the MEPs. They are not up to the task and to the gravity without precedent of our collective situation and are jeopardising our future”.

“If such amendments are adopted this Thursday, the European Union can once and for all forget its ambition to bring the fishing and marine resource sector on the path of social and environmental sustainability” warns Valérie Le Brenne, researcher at BLOOM specialised on subsidies, for whom Thursday’s vote will be a test of fire for the European MEPs.

The NGOs BirdLife, Client Earth, Seas at Risk and WWF have screened all the amendments and made recommendations that BLOOM supports unequivocally and urges MEPs to follow. NGOs insist on the fact that at least 25% of the amount of public subsidies should be allocated to the protection of nature and 25% to data collection, monitoring and control of fishing activities.[10]

The “denial coalition”, formed by the deputy signatories of the harmful amendments allowing fishers to fish more, must urgently review its position in light of the recommendations made by civil society organisations, less it undermine disastrously the legitimacy of the Parliament to govern our collective destiny.

This fundamental text is one of the last ones on which the PECH Committee has to take a decision. After the vote by the European Commission, the Regulation will have to be voted in a plenary session by all 751 MEPs. This vote must imperatively take place before the last plenary session of the current Parliament to be held the week of April 15th. The Trilogue negotiations with the Council and the Commission can only begin after the European elections.

> Read the recommendations of the NGOs

To go further

The manoeuvre by MEPs of the European Parliament’s Fisheries Committee to maintain at all cost an economic model advantageous to industrialists is based on a cloak of virtue: the excuse to help the small-scale fishery. With one hand they propose to fund their means of production, and with the other they introduce perverse measures, such as the one allowing Member States the possibility to define as they see fit the small coastal fishery. Such measures would thus allow industrial vessels to qualify for aides that were forbidden to them until today, and for good reason.

Notes and references

[1] No traceability is possible for votes in Committees.

[2] The actual Regulation proposal has four priorities: 1) Encourage sustainable fishing and the conservation of marine biological resources; 2) Contribute to food safety in the European Union thanks to competitive aquaculture and markets; 3) Allow the growth of a blue and sustainable economy and encourage the prosperity of the coastal communities; 4) Reinforce the international governance of the oceans and ensure that seas and oceans are safe, secured, clean and managed sustainably.

[3] Froese et al. (2018) Status and rebuilding of European fisheries. Marine Policy, 93: 159-170.

[4] Over the past thirty years, the number of French fishers from metropolitan France has been divided by two, decreasing from 30,000 to less than 13,000. Source: Le Floc’h (2017) Les pêches maritimes françaises. 1983-2013. Presses universitaires de Rennes.

[5] European Commission (2009) Green Paper. Reform of the Common Fisheries Policy. Brussels. Available here:

[6] See Article 2 on the objectives if the CFP, EU Regulation No 1380/2013.

[7] Sustainable Development Goal 14.6 unanimously adopted by the UN in 2015.

[8] Sustainable Development Goal 14.4.

[9] For the past twenty years, the subsidies for fisheries have been the subject of negotiations at the World Trade Organisation (WTO), with the aim of reaching a multilateral agreement to ban them. The SDG 14.6, which was adopted by the UN in 2015, targeted the year 2020 to eliminate these aides and allowed to resume the WTO negotiations.


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