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October 29, 2012

Does paying subsidies pay off?

© OCEANA / Juan Cuetos


After decision-makers having aired the agreement on fishing subsidies reached by EU fisheries ministers last week as a great victory, the time has come to pose a couple of uncomfortable questions: Is this really the best way of investing taxpayer money to promote fishing activities? Moreover, will these funds become actually spent, or will they remain as a nice headline in an old newspaper?

Well, a research by Oceana found out that total fishing subsidies available to the sector are equivalent to half the value of the total fish catch (2009 figures), and as result of these major funds, the EU has a fishing fleet between two and three times larger than what would be sustainable given the existing natural resources. The consequence is perverse: overexploited fisheries, declining catches and economic losses. It doesn’t look like a good investment, does it?

Let’s analyse now the second question. Most of the measures under the current fund, the European Fisheries Fund (EFF), that will run until 2013, need to be co-financed by the Member States. For example, scrapping schemes are usually 50% EU paid. Until the end of 2010 (latest available data), all the Member States had committed 32,7% of the total budget provided by the EU, but only paid 14,9%. Beneficiaries were waiting to receive the funds they had been allocated.

The European Commission has admitted that “the effects of the economic and financial crisis constrained the funding that was available”, so it is likely that many of the Member States will fail to implement the subsidies that they agreed to last week. They simply don’t have the money.

It seems logical that when there is little money this is well invested aiming at the public good. One would expect, therefore, that subsidies were dedicated to rebuild fisheries by protecting marine areas which act as nurseries, to properly assess the status of stocks in order to draft adequate management measures, to ensure control and enforcement so that unsustainable fishermen don’t abuse responsible ones, to improve the selectivity of fishing gears and thus avoid the discard of unwanted catches… In summary: investing now to be able to fish more in the middle-term.

Spending taxpayer’s money on measures that have proven to be ineffective does not pay off, don’t you think so?