European Parliament upholds ban on fishing vessel construction subsidies

11 November 2013

In the latest move by Europe to overhaul its Common Fisheries Policy, parliamentarians have voted down an effort to reintroduce controversial construction subsidies.

European Parliament has approved new spending rules for a fund dedicated to help support the bloc's fisheries industry. Parliamentarians voted on 23 October to allow the €6.5 billion European Maritime Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to be spent on the modernisation of engines and selective fishing equipment, but notably rejected a controversial proposal to reintroduce vessel construction subsidies.

While construction subsidies were banned in 2002 over concerns that Europe's fleet was already over capacity, a proposal to have them reintroduced scraped through the parliament's Fisheries Committee by 12 votes to 11. The proposal, however, did not survive last week's parliamentary vote.

Proponents of overturning the ban on vessel construction subsidies - including the legislation's rapporteur Alain Cadec - argued that the EU's ageing fleet created risks for fishermen's safety and the marine environment. Critics, including Oceans2012 - a coalition of NGOs - countered that modernisation and vessel construction subsidies maintained or even increased overfishing.

A handful of other subsidies were approved by Parliament, however. Support for the replacement and modernisation of fishing vessel engines was among these measures, provided that the new engine is at least 40 percent less powerful than the engine it replaces. Parliamentarians also signed off on a proposal to make grants of up to €100,000 available to help young people enter the industry with small scale second-hand fishing vessels.

But the approved subsidies were also contested by critics, who argued that the payments would undermine the Common Fisheries Policy's (CFP) objective of improving the sustainability of fishing.  The Green-European Free Alliance coalition voted as a bloc against the proposals, arguing that the subsidies will over-equip Europe's fisheries fleet.

There was wider support for funding that would improve the management of the EU's fisheries. In an effort to reduce bycatch - non-target fish discarded by fishing vessels - funds will be available to subsidise the purchase of selective fishing equipment. Funds will also be used to gather better data about the health of the EU's depleted fish stocks.

Environmental organisations were broadly positive about the overall package. WWF, which follows fisheries subsidies closely, said rejecting the construction subsidies proposal was essential to helping ensure European fisheries remain sustainable.

"Today we have dodged a bullet as the proposal on the table would have made fish stock recovery measures agreed in the summer pointless," WWF's European Policy Office director Tony Long said in a statement. "Funding for fleet renewal ended in 2002 and a reintroduction of these subsidies would have dangerously increased the capacity of the fleet, given boats a longer range and resulted in the destruction of the few remaining healthy fish stocks."

The vote is the latest move in a once-in-a-decade review of the CFP which began in 2011 and follows on from decisions on the core rules around subsidisation agreed in June of this year. The new rules that make up the reform package will now be negotiated with EU member states.

ICTSD reporting.

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