Fishermen will not get European Union subsidies to build new vessels for the bloc's already swollen fleet, EU lawmakers agreed on Wednesday (23 October), in a vote that raised hopes for an end to decades of over-fishing in Europe.
Voting on how to allocate nearly €1 billion ($1.4 billion) in annual fisheries subsidies up to 2020, the European Parliament said more money should be spent on assessing the state of Europe's depleted stocks and measures to clamp down on illegal fishing.
If confirmed in talks with governments, the proposals could spell relief for the estimated 75% of EU fish stocks that the European Commission says are over-fished.
The European Union scrapped subsidies for new boats nearly a decade ago, but French and Spanish parliamentarians backed by their powerful domestic fishing fleets led a push to reintroduce the payments.
Conservation groups largely backed the parliament's position, though there was still a risk the proposals would be watered down in negotiations with member states.
"This can help make sustainable EU fisheries a reality, as long as governments follow the direction that parliament set," said Saskia Richartz, EU fisheries policy director for Greenpeace.
The European parliament also voted to double investment in data collection, control and regulation enforcement, hailed as a victory by conservationists.
Some Liberal and Green lawmakers criticised a decision to allow a limited amount of EU funds to be used to upgrade existing vessels - for example by fitting them with new engines.
"Modern engines can do the job more effectively than old ones, and so increase the catching capacity of the fishing fleet without creating any new jobs," British Liberal MEP Chris Davies said in a statement.
Employment in EU salt-water fisheries was the equivalent of 140,000 full-time jobs in 2009, according to the most recent figures from the European Commission. Numbers are very likely to have fallen since.
Talks between governments and the parliament to finalise the spending rules are due to begin in November, with a deal expected before the start of next year when the new rules will enter force.
In May, negotiators completed a complex overhaul the bloc's common fisheries policy, which alongside subsidies has been blamed for driving decades of over-fishing.
That deal will put an end to annual haggling over catch quotas by EU fisheries ministers, and drastically reduce the practice of "discards", which sees fishermen throw almost 2 million tonnes of unwanted fish back into the sea each year.
Europe's top fishing nations are Denmark, Spain, Britain and France, which together account for about half of all EU catches.
Europe had the third-highest fish catches globally behind China and Indonesia in 2010, the most recent data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization showed.
European Parliament rapporteur for the fisheries fund, French MEP Alain Cadec of the European People's Party, said the report "gives a future to our European sustainable fisheries. The EMFF will not be an instrument for the reconversion of fishermen outside the fishing sector as the Commission proposed. On the contrary, it will enable the access of young fishermen into the fishing sector with start-up support. It will also enable the replacement of engines under conditions for a lower consumption and less CO2 emissions", said the Rapporteur after the vote.
Guido Milana, an Italian MEP in the Socialists and Democrats group and vice-chair of the Parliament's fisheries committee, said: "With today's vote, the EU is paving the way for more socially and environmentally sustainable fisheries. There will be a smarter distribution of EU funds and stricter controls on their use. Finally, the focus is shifted from vessels to employment and fish stocks."
Quote from Tony Long, director of WWF's European Policy Office: “Today’s decision gives European fish stocks a real fighting chance. 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.”
Greenpeace EU fisheries policy director Saskia Richartz said: “Europeans want to see healthy seas and an end to overfishing, not perverse subsidies that undermine these goals by keeping an oversized fleet afloat. The Parliament has put its weight behind positive initiatives, calling for more research on stock recovery measures and the monitoring of fishing vessels. This can help make sustainable EU fisheries a reality, as long as governments follow the direction that Parliament set”.
“Members of the European Parliament mostly showed courage today, and we are particularly pleased with the significant increase in crucial funding for data and control,” said Xavier Pastor, executive director of Oceana in Europe. “Unfortunately, MEPs let a few harmful subsidies slip through the cracks. Funding for new engines and temporary cessation, will do nothing to rebuild Europe’s fish stocks or bring our fishing industry back.”
- Late 2013: EU ministers to vote on the fisheries budget