Massive subsidies given to the EU’s fishing fleet failed to reduce over capacity or ease pressure on fish stocks, a new report claims.
Almost 5 billion euros was spent during 2000-2006 in a bid to bring the size of the fleet more into line with shrinking stocks.
But the plan failed to achieve the anticipated cuts and in some cases led to an increase in the amount of fish being caught. And more money was spent building ships than scrapping them.
According to the report commissioned by the conservation organisation, Pew Environment Group, this caused even more damage to some stocks and hampered the recovery of others.
Pew estimates the failure to reduce the capacity of fishing fleet put pressure on fish stocks at two to three times above a sustainable level.
Pew’s policy and research director, Markus Knigge, said: “Fish stocks are a public resource that the European Commission and member states are responsible for managing sustainably on our behalf. Instead public monies have funded overfishing, with devastating effects on the marine environment and fisheries dependent communities.”
The report looked at 10 EU countries and reveals that of the 4.9 billion euros paid out, almost half – 46 per cent – went to Spain. Italy took 11 per cent and France nine per cent. The three top countries together took two-thirds of the money available.
The UK received five per cent.
The research was carried out by Poseidon Aquatic Resource who analysed figures compiled by www.fishsubsidy.org which campaigns to have all fishing subsidies made public.
Subsidies were paid from 2000-2006 under a scheme known as Financial Instrument for Fisheries Guidance (FIFG) but this has now been discontinued.
For the period 2007-2013 subsidies will be allocated by the European Fisheries Fund and it will be impossible for a similar study to be carried out in future.
Markus Knigge added: “Transparency has been removed with the new funding instrument. The public have a right to know what they have funded.”
The subsidies were intended to encourage quicker change in fishing habits and to provide support to fishing communities as the change happened while at the same time protecting the marine environment.
The intended changes – a reduction in the size of the fishing fleet and cutting back on the amount of fish being caught – were to be achieved by either reducing fleet capacity or by cutting the number of days fleets were allowed to fish.
The Poseidon report looked at the environmental and social impacts of subsidies and assessed how successful they had been in matching the size of the fishing fleet to the amount of fish stocks available.
Some of the report’s key findings included:
*Fishing capacity was reduced by three per cent on gross tonnage and seven per cent by engine power – insufficient to have an impact on the imbalance between fleet and stocks.
*Subsidies were provided for the construction of 3,000 new vessels and the modernisation of 8,000 more compared to the scrapping of 6,000 vessels mainly small, inshore boats in Spain and Greece. This is expected to lead to a net increase in capacity.
*54 per cent of funding went on measures having a neutral or unclear impact on fishing capacity, 29 per cent on negative measures – building or modernising ships – and just 17 per cent on positive measures.
*More money was spent building new fishing vessels than scrapping existing fishing boats. In Spain’s case, four times as much funding went on measures identified as having potentially negative environmental impacts.
*Subsidies contributed to the over-fished status of several key European stocks such as southern hake and monkfish by financing the construction and modernisation of ships targeting them. It also hindered the recovery of over-fished stocks such as megrim.
Conversely, the reduction in bottom-trawl capacity in the North Sea had helped cod stocks recover.
*Because 38 per cent of new vessels were bottom otter trawlers it was likely to lead to more damage of seabed habitats especially in the Iberian Peninsula.
The report claims that the IFFG system did not consider the environmental impact on target stocks, by catch species or the wider marine environment when the subsidies were handed out. Spain, France and Italy, who took the lion’s share, used it to directly support the fishermen and communities they thought would be worst affected by cuts in quota whereas the UK and Denmark used the money to restructure their fleets.
High subsidy levels relative to the sector value – 20 per cent in the case of Spain and 10 per cent for Portugal and Sweden – had boosted profits. This had helped make fishing viable during a phase of restructuring and could have delayed inevitable and necessary reduction in capacity – which wasn’t the objective of the subsidy.
The subsidies handed out were also unfair, the report alleges, with only 14 per cent of the EU fleet getting financial support. In Spain and France 25 per cent of their fleets got funding but in the UK, Portugal and Germany it was only 5-6 per cent. The majority of fishing countries had been unwilling or unable to apply for subsidies.
It also argued that member countries given the right to fish had a duty to abide by Common Fisheries Policy rules but with the exception of Italy and Poland, no effort had been made to ensure subsidies were conditional on compliance. No other member state had a system to make sure that law-breakers weren’t given financial aid and although Spain had received the highest subsidies, it spent the least on control and monitoring of its fleet.
Tim Huntington of Poseidon concluded: “EU fisheries subsidies and the overfishing of valuable fish stocks are clearly connected. Of the funding analysed, 29 per cent went to measures that would result in increased fishing pressure, whereas 17 per cent was spent on measures known to support healthy fisheries.”
The full allocation of subsidies for the 10 countries was as follows:
Spain: 46 per cent.
Italy: 11 per cent.
France: 9 per cent.
Greece: 5.5 per cent.
Denmark, Portugal, UK: 5 per cent.
Germany and Poland: 3 per cent.
Sweden: 2 per cent.
For more information and the full report: www.pewenvironment.eu