European fisheries subsidies: 20 years of progress about to be ruined?

While negotiations on the future EMFF (European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, 2021–2027) are due to resume with a new Trilogue meeting by the end of September, a study published in the international scientific journal ICES Journal of Marine Science — which BLOOM co-authored alongside scientists from the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) — draws a rather positive (but mixed) review of European policies regarding fisheries subsidies over the past twenty years. Despite substantial progress, we warn decision makers about a very real risk of violent backsliding.

> Read our scientific article

Slow and insufficient progress

In our study, we show that while progress has been made with a reduction in the proportion of subsidies leading to overfishing, it is still insufficient in light of the current, poor state of European marine ecosystems, climate breakdown, and biodiversity collapse. The proportion of these harmful subsidies has indeed fell from 27% for the 2000–2006 period to 22% between 2014 and 2020, while 38% of fish stocks are still overexploited in the North-East Atlantic and 92% in the Mediterranean Sea.[1] Our findings therefore highlight the crucial need for strengthened ambition, rather than lowered ambition.

A high risk of going backwards

Efforts undertaken to reduce the proportion of harmful subsidies — those that lead to an increase in fishing capacity, and eventually to overfishing — indeed risk being severely undermined should the next structural fund dedicated to fishing re-authorize construction subsidies; a type of public aid that was banned in the European Union fifteen years ago due its widely-accepted role in fueling overfishing. Such a major, likely shift in Europe is all the more worrying and confusing that it comes at a crucial time for international negotiations.

A historical responsibility

Negotiations at the WTO (World Trade Organization) are indeed supposed to come to an end in the coming months and to lead to a multilateral agreement aiming to ban harmful fisheries subsidies, after nearly twenty years of ups and downs and complicated negotiations. However, the European Union being both one of the top fisheries subsidies contributors (along with China, the United States, Korea, and Japan) and a key player in these WTO negotiations, any backtracking in its own domestic policy would send a particularly negative signal on the international scene and jeopardize the very fragile process initiated at the WTO. We therefore remind the European Union of its major responsibility as an actor having committed to international objectives for the protection of the ocean. The collapse of European ambition will spell the end for all international negotiations.

Notes and references

[1] Analysis published byt the Association française d’halieutique (French fisheries association), available at:

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