The new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund is a greenlight for harmful overfishing

Francisco Guerreiro MEP
Moored Vessel in the seaport.

Denying a ringfenced pot of money to promote biodiversity and continuing harmful subsidies for the large-scale fishing industry, the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund is irresponsible, writes Francisco Guerreiro MEP.

Brussels (Brussels Morning) On 22 February, the Greens/European Free Alliance (EFA) group voted against the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) agreement approved by the Fisheries Committee (PECH). 

The new EMFAF will provide 6,108 billion euros in current prices over the next seven years to support the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), as subsidies to the EU fishing sector, for control, data collection and other measures. 

As shadow rapporteur for the Greens/EFA Group on this file, I have tried, during the inter-institutional negotiations, to constructively reach compromises that would reverse or improve our main concerns, including the lack of sufficient ring-fenced funds for biodiversity and public support in the form of grants and financial instruments (loans) for lucrative private enterprises. 

Unfortunately, we did not manage to secure such compromises and could, therefore, not support the final agreement in the Fisheries Committee. Indeed, we also believe that many of the adopted measures can still be considered harmful subsidies that could lead to overfishing. 

25% for biodiversity…or not

In our view, the new fund is not ambitious enough in acknowledging the importance of protecting biodiversity and marine ecosystems. The Greens/EFA group successfully tabled an amendment that foresaw the ringfencing of 25% of the full EMFAF amount per member state to promote biodiversity but it did not secure the agreement the other political groups and Council. 

Consequently, the new EMFAF agreement falls short of the main Commission’s ambitions, like the European Green Deal and Biodiversity Strategy, while ignoring the last IPCC report on oceans.

For our Group, the message is simple: we need a resilient marine ecosystem and healthy fish stocks to continue sustainable fishing in the future. Aquaculture alone is not the answer and neither is the consumption of more fish. 

Grants for lucrative large-scale industry

Our group’s objective was to help exclusively the fishers that need it the most, that is the small-scale coastal fishers with vessels under 12 metres and no towed gear (SSCF), while avoiding any form of potential harmful subsidy. This stance was the European Parliament’s position at the start but the shift came quickly toward the Council’s opinion to expand support to larger vessels.

By making the funds available for vessels up to 24 metres (and above), there will be less funding available for the SSCF. Through our perspective, restricting support to financial instruments and for very limited types of investments would have been better than a dangerous trajectory toward overfishing. 

This decision makes little sense as large-scale fishing industry has seen profitability for years, leaving little reason to spend public money to support it. This industry can and should improve on-board conditions and modernise engines with their own funds, like any other business, to ensure safety and environmental legal compliance, improve the wellbeing of workers and to be innovative and competitive. 

What now? 

In the coming months, the new Regulation will need to be approved in plenary session, by the European Parliament, and in the Council as well. 

A future-proof agreement and step away from the traditional approach to fishing would have been the better outcome here. Political groups, member states and industry need to understand that by protecting and restoring the natural environment and fishing stocks today, we are helping the fishers of tomorrow. 

This fund should have been used to prioritise the protection of our ocean’s biodiversity and to restore ecosystems. The Greens/EFA group is committed to the long-term view, knowing that to continue with the business-as-usual model of giving away grants to the profitable, large-scale fishing sector is simply irresponsible.

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Francisco Guerreiro is an MEP for the Group of the Greens/European Free Alliance. He is first vice-chair of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development and takes part in the Committees on Budgets and on Fisheries among other activities.