Marinet seeks accountability and transparency in the recording of EU fishing subsidies

Marinet has written, 6th May 2013, to the President of the European Commission, Manuel Barroso, and the Fisheries Ministers of Member States to request transparency and accountability in respect of subsidy payments made to vessels in the EU fishing fleet from the European Fisheries Fund (EFF). These subsidies total over 1 billion Euros annually.

Following the May 2013 political agreement between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (Fisheries Ministers) to reform the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) so that discards are eliminated and fish populations are rebuilt progressively between now and 2020, negotiations have now begun in Brussels between the EU governmental institutions – the Parliament and its Fisheries Committee, the Commission and the Council of Ministers — to reform fishing subsidies.

These negotiations commenced in June and will run till December, and the European Parliament is expected to vote on its reform recommendations in October. The reformed subsidies fund will be known as the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), and will have access to a similar scale of resources (1 billion Euros annually).

The old subsidy fund (EFF) has been mired in controversy. Since 2007 the Commission has ceased to be the active agent collecting data on subsidy payments and each Member State has instead become responsible for keeping a record of payments for vessels in its national fleet (i.e. who received how much and for what purpose). Each Member State is required to annually submit this data to the Commission so that the Commission can then assemble an EU-wide record.

Unfortunately, Member States have used different accounting systems – thus make comparisons difficult – and some Member States have simply not made a return of data to the Commission. As a result, accountability and transparency in the operation of subsidy payments has declined markedly since 2007.

Sceptics who view the subsidy system to date as simply a driver of over-fishing (it is estimated that around two-thirds of the EU fleet is uneconomic and could not put to sea without support from subsidies) also regard this loss of transparency and accountability as a convenient screen for the policies of the old, unreformed CFP .

The unreformed CFP (i.e. prior to 2013) has been notorious for resulting in over-fishing and collapsing fish populations — in 2010 over 80% of EU fish stocks were believed to be over-fished, and 30% of these close to commercial extinction.

Hence the political agreement in June of this year on reform of the CFP — agreement to begin to rebuild fish populations and to put fishing activities on a sustainable basis — has meant that there is now an opportunity to reform the subsidy system as well.

The advocates for reform of fishing subsidies, Marinet amongst them, are arguing that the new fund – the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund — should no longer be making payments which finance an expansion of fishing (i.e. enlargement of engines and fishing nets) but should instead be seeking to rebuild stocks and financing fishing only at levels that are demonstrably sustainable.

In practical terms, these reform proposals mean that subsidies would be used for the installation of GPS equipment (Global Positioning System) and CCTV on vessels to ensure a comprehensive collection of data, both about the activity of individual vessels and the types and levels of fish that are being caught. In short, a conservation-based deployment of subsidies.

Marinet’s letter of 6th May to Manuel Barroso, President of the Commission, has sought to put this reform process on the right track because, unless there is effective accountability and transparency over payments then, whatever the reforms, the new European Maritime and Fisheries Fund will lack integrity and essentially fail to deliver whatever is promised.

John Stansfield, Marinet’s EU campaigner, states: “Given the magnitude of the subsidies, the fact that they cause over-fishing and have been the major factor in the relentless decline of Europe’s fish stocks, it is remarkable that there was a sudden and unannounced change in the Commission’s policy in 2007 for collecting information by Member States on the use of these destructive subsidies. The effect of the change has been to bring to an end the meaningful collation of that data and its public availability. Consequently, the impression that the Commission no longer wants that information ‘out there’ is unavoidable.”

Marinet has launched an EU-wide Petition to persuade the Commission President of the need for genuine reform of fishing subsidies which Marinet would be grateful if you would support and circulate, and to see the full text of Marinet’s letter of 6th May to President Barroso, view here.

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