For decades, EU fisheries subsidies have fuelled the growth of the EU fleet to a level estimated to be two to three times higher than what the ocean can sustainably provide and then artificially maintained the overcapacity of the fleet, driving the overfishing of our seas. Yet the vast majority of Europe’s fishing fleets is unprofitable and would not be able to operate without subsidies from Member States.
According to the World Bank and the FAO (“The Sunken Billion”, 2008), marine fishing loses US$50,000 million each year around the world, a figure that could turn into benefits if correct management measures were applied. Along the same lines, a scientific publication by Dr. Rainer Froese (“Rebuilding fish stocks no later than 2015: will Europe meet the deadline?”, 2010) shows that catches could increase by up to 80% if management were sustainable.
Oceana released a study in 2011 estimating the total expenditure in fishing sector subsidies in 2009 to have amounted to EUR 3.3 billion. This estimate is three times greater the amount that is typically quoted in public figures. In 13 countries, subsidies were greater than the value of the fish catch.
In 2013, Oceana released another study, this time looking at state aid, the hidden subsidies allocated by Member States to their fleets between 2000 and 2013. The estimate totaled up to EUR 4,9 billion, of which only 1% was identified by Oceana as beneficial subsidies for the marine environment.
Oceana is calling on the EU to put an end to the vicious circle of overcapacity and overfishing of the fleet. The European Union should stop environmentally harmful and capacity-enhancing subsidies and support financially the protection of marine environment through the creation of marine protected areas, the increase of fisheries control and the scientific research.
Thanks to Oceana, the European Court of Justice forced Italy to reimburse €7M it received in subsidies for the conversion or decommissioning of its fleet. Oceana proved that the fleet was never converted or decommissioned and that the funds were used to increase the fishing efforts.
Oceana reported various vessels for illegal fishing, one of the activities that most seriously damages sustainable fishing.
In January 2014, the European Parliament and the Fisheries Council reached a political agreement on the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund, the financial mechanism that will allow the implementation of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy over the next seven years. Previous fisheries subsidies schemes have given priority to short-term economic interests at the expense of sustainability, using taxpayer’s money to increase fleet capacity and fund overfishing.
In addition to the subsidies available under the official EU funds, Member States can take the initiative to provide additional funding to their sector under the state aid mechanism. These investments are only approved by the European Commission on the condition that the subsidies comply with the objectives of the European fisheries policy and do not distort or threaten to distort competition.
In 2013, a six-month study done by Oceana showed since 2000 that EU Member States had granted €4.9 billion in the form of state aid to their fishing sectors in addition to the € 8 billion from the official EU funding mechanisms. Ireland, Spain, Italy and France lead the pack and account for almost 75 percent of the total amount of allocated state aid.
Of the 450 state aid cases analysed, 65% could be categorized as environmentally harmful or ambiguous subsidies, and less than 1% of the subsidies directly benefit the marine resources. Worryingly, 34% of the funds declared were marked as general aid and allocated to the entire fisheries sector, thus obscuring the objectives and true recipients of one-third of the state aid spending.