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October 21, 2013

It’s time to stop fishing for short term fixes


(This piece was first published on Parliament Magazine’s website)

Multiannual budgets, tobacco regulations and the financial crisis have been on the mind of many Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) lately; and rightly so, as decisions made on these issues have far-reaching effects on the daily life of Europeans. However, on 23 October, MEPs will vote on a file that will also have impact on Europe’s citizens: the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), which ties together several financial, social and environmental elements. Any decision taken in Brussels will impact citizens from the Gulf of Bothnia, to the Black Sea and the strait of Gibraltar.

In December 2012, the Fisheries Committee voted to rebuild stocks and kickstarted the promising reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that was adopted by an overwhelming majority in the February plenary. But this same committee has now made a complete U-turn on the EMFF file. In July, they voted for a position that will block any possibility for the fisheries sector to transition towards sustainability or to adapt to the obligations of the new CFP – the 502 MEPs that voted this reform through should be outraged.

Subsidies and overfishing are historically linked; public subsidies have allowed the EU’s fleet capacity to increase exponentially in the previous decades, by massively funding the construction of new vessels. In 2002, these types of subsidies, referred to as fleet renewal, were removed from the official EU fund, because of their role in perpetuating overfishing.

In European waters, over 88% of Mediterranean and 39% of North East Atlantic fish stocks are still overfished. These disturbing facts can only be addressed by a financial mechanism that will allow Member States to rebuild fish stocks, create jobs and stimulate economic growth in local fishing communities. Yet the majority of the Committee voted to re-introduce the same harmful subsidies that have failed for more than two decades to improve the social or economic situation of the sector. Allowing subsidies for short term measures such as financial handouts to let vessels stay in port when the stocks are low (temporary cessation) or investments for new engines that will prove uncontrollable and environmentally harmful, will not address any of the structural problems that the European sector currently faces.

Members of Parliament would be shooting themselves in the foot if they follow the recommendations of the Fisheries Committee to reintroduce almost 2 billion euros worth of subsidies for new boats and engines, and undermine the ambitious CFP reform they pushed through.

Times of crisis require bold decisions and politicians who stand up for the general interest of Europe’s citizens. On October 23, MEPs must vote to ensure a sustainable future for Europe’s fish stocks, by rejecting fleet renewal and modernization of boats.