Sinkevicius: Commission’s measures bring relief to troubled EU fisheries

Virginijus Sinkevičius, 29, is the youngest Commissioner ever appointed. [EC]

The new support mechanism for the temporary storage of fishery and aquaculture products for human consumption will foster greater market stability and reduce the risk of having such products wasted or redirected to non-human food purposes, Fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius told EURACTIV.com

He commented on the third package of measures to support member states’ economy during the coronavirus pandemic, released on Thursday (2 April).

The new measures envisage support to fishermen and aquaculture farmers for the temporary cessation of fishing activities or reduction of production due to the coronavirus, as well as support to producers organisation for the temporary storage of seafood products.

The aid package includes a more flexible reallocation of financial resources within the operational programme of each member states, granting more flexibility to use the funds available to tackle the crisis.

Whilst support from the current European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) for the 2014-2020 period has helped to invest in the social, economic and environmental sustainability of the fisheries sector under normal circumstances, the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the sector requires more far-reaching and flexible responses.

“In this respect, the fisheries sector has been nearly unanimous in requesting EU support for temporary emergency measures and budgetary flexibility in order to alleviate the socio-economic effects of coronavirus,” said Sinkevičius.

In addition, the sector has requested specific support for producer organisations, which play a key role in the management of the crisis.

In order to mitigate the market disturbances caused by the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the sector has also called for the reactivation of storage aid.

“The Commission listened to these requests, which were also echoed by member states and MEPs, proposing specific temporary measures already on 19 March and additionally in the new Corona Response Investment Initiative Plus of yesterday,” the Lithuanian Commissioner said.

He added that the EU executive has received many messages of support from EU countries, the fishing industry, including the small-scale segment, MEPs as well as other stakeholders for the measures adopted as they aim to bring immediate relief to the industry.

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Decreasing demand

The fisheries and aquaculture sector is facing a general supply shock because of the lock-down of consumers and the closure of restaurants and hotels.

“Markets for seafood are, in fact, already disrupted by the coronavirus crisis and this has resulted in a significant drop of demand,” said Sinkevičius.

The closure of sales venues, auction halls and markets, outlets and distribution channels has seen prices and volumes drop substantially.

The decreasing demand for fresh fish has brought down prices, which is leading to drastic reductions in crew incomes.

“Many players in the value chain have closed their business due to the coronavirus safety measures,” said the Commissioner.

While some small-scale fishers can continue working since in some areas, short circuits in the supply chain are still operational, in other parts of Europe there are no more sales opportunities and fishermen can no longer sell their products.

“The drop of demand and prices, combined with the vulnerability and complexity of the supply chain, marked by perishable products and the need of workforce, made the operations of fishing fleets and seafood production loss-making,” he explained.

Consequently, fishers are forced to stay in port and fish farmers will have to discard or destroy products within weeks.

No delay, no change in the EMFF

Asked if the crisis may delay or modify the topics during interinstitutional talks on the post-2020 EMFF, the main EU fund that supports fishing communities, Sinkevičius said that negotiations continue on the basis of the Commission’s 2018 proposal.

According to the Commissioner, the new proposal reflects the immediate need for support to address the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak but by no means undermines the basic principles of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) – achieving environmental, social and economic benefits in the long term through sustainable management of fisheries.

“The future fund must remain focused on these objectives,” he said, adding that, in this respect, EU support to foster conditions for profitable fishing activities remains essential and goes hand in hand with sustainability objectives.

This long-term approach is also totally compatible with an urgent – and limited in time – support to fishing communities across the EU in the exceptional coronavirus context, he continued.

“In our proposal, we have for example made sure that we can preserve sufficient funding for control and data collection, which are cornerstones of the CFP and essential to make sure we achieve our conservation objectives,” the Commissioner concluded.

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[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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