NGOs call on the European Commission to stand firm on his commitment to eliminate harmful subsidies

BLOOM, along with representatives from environmental NGOs BirdLife, ClientEarth, Seas At Risk and WWF, met on Tuesday 19 November with Virginijus Sinkevičius, the future Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries. This meeting follows the confirmation by the European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries on Tuesday 12 November of the disastrous position adopted by the former Parliament for the next European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF).

As the coalition of NGOs is actively advocating for the elimination of harmful fisheries subsidies in the EMFF, Mathieu Colléter, BLOOM’s Policy Officer explains the situation: The state of play before entering in Trilogue negotiations is extremely alarming. We have outlined our red lines to ensure harmful subsidies are banned from the next EMFF and avoid a disastrous outcome for the ocean and coastal communities.”

The red lines that can not be crossed during negotiations

  • The next EMFF must ban any financial possibility to support or incentivize the construction of new fishing vessels;
  • The next EMFF must also exclude any subsidies for engine replacement or modernisation, as well as subsidies for onboard investments that increase fishing capacity and/or the ability to find fish;
  • Permanent and temporary cessations were proved not to be an efficient tool for conservation and fisheries management. Therefore, safeguards put in place by the Commission must not be removed nor watered down, as is currently the case;[1]
  • At least 25% of the budget must be dedicated to environment protection, restoration, and marine knowledge.

The bottom line is that individual subsidies that reduce the operational costs of the fishing sector must be removed from the next EMFF, and public money should instead be spent for public good (see ‘To go further’).

Given the explicit mandate given to Mr. Sinkevičius with regards to fisheries subsidies, we urge the European Commission to stand firm and ensure that red lines are not crossed. Should no major progress be seen during the two Trilogue meetings planned before the end of the year, we would call on the European Commission to withdraw its proposal and thus prevent a catastrophic regulation from being adopted.

“Exceptional times command exceptional measures. We need a radical change in our production and consumption models. We cannot continue to finance the destruction of our Planet with public funds. The Commission has no choice but to remain immovable regarding the next EMFF”, concludes Mathieu Colléter.


To go further

What’s a ‘harmful subsidy’?

Certain types of subsidies contribute to fishing overcapacity (that is, too much technology and effort deployed to catch finite fish stocks), and thus directly lead to overfishing. These subsidies are known as ‘harmful subsidies’. They include any subsidy that reduces the operational costs of the fishing sector such as building new vessels or replacing engines. They can also be subsidies provided to fishing companies and vessels that engage in detrimental practices such as marine habitat degradation, slavery, or that catch large proportion of species not intended for sale (i.e. bycatch) or threatened/endangered species.

But not all subsidies are ‘harmful’. On the contrary, certain subsidies lead to investment in natural capital assets. In stark contrast with ‘harmful’ subsidies, these ‘positive’ subsidies ensure the optimum use of the finite resources of our ocean’s diverse species. They include, for instance, subsidies aimed at improving monitoring, control and surveillance programs of fishing vessels, fisheries research and development, and fishery habitat enhancement programmes.

Current state of play regarding the next EMFF

The EMFF 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 period 2021-2027.

> Read more about what’s at stake

On 12 November 2019, the new European Parliament’s Committee on Fisheries confirmed its will to reintroduce public aids to build new vessels, although such subsidies were banned in Europe in 2004 because of their direct role in overfishing.

The Council of the European Union (i.e. the 28 Member States’ fisheries ministers) proposes an even more harmful position.

>Read our analysis of the Council’s position

The two co-decision-makers — the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union — will now enter into negotiations along with the European Commission. This process called ‘Trilogue’ aims at finding a common position but, given the disastrous positions adopted by both Parliament and Council, this next step of the legislative process promises to be very detrimental to marine ecosystems and coastal communities.

[1] Parliament and Council have significantly amended Articles 17 and 18 on the compensation for extraordinary and permanent cessations of fishing activities


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