Spain tops EU fishing ‘overcapacity’ ranking
Published: Thursday 25 June 2009
EU subsidies have been fuelling the overcapacity of Europe’s fishing fleets, according to new research by the Pew Environment Group, which found that almost half of EU fisheries funding goes to Spain.
The launch of fishsubsidy.org follows last month’s assertion by farmsubdidy.org, a similar site dealing with recipients of EU funding under the Common Agricultural Policy, that highly-fragmented information provided by governments on recipients actively defies the principles of open government and transparency (EurActiv 11/05/09).
In October 2008, the European Commission launched a website making details of beneficiaries of all types of EU funding available for the first time (EurActiv 03/10/08).
The ‘Financial Transparency System’ search engine – part of the wider transparency initiative launched by Administration and Anti-Fraud Commissioner Siim Kallas in 2005 (see EurActiv LinksDossier) – gives “free access to details of who receives EU funds managed directly by the Commission” and the executive agencies it sets up to manage EU programmes.
Meanwhile, reform of the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy is ongoing following the publication by the Commission of a Green Paper on the matter in April 2009.
“Rather than encouraging sustainable fishing, subsidies have contributed to ever-greater capacity of fishing fleets and in turn to the depletion of valuable fish stocks,” said Markus Knigge, research director of the Pew Environment Group’s European marine programme.
Knigge was speaking yesterday (24 June) prior to the launch today of fishsubsidy.org, a new website put together by Pew and EU Transparency to “allow decision-makers and the public to see in detail how and where EU fishing subsidies have been spent,” according to the two NGOs.
Between 1994 and 2006, 48% of all EU fisheries subsidies went to
18 of the all-time top 25 recipient vessels are Spanish, and 21 out of
the 25 most heavily-subsidised ports – including the top eight – are in
site presents data on EU fisheries subsides paid between 1994 and 2006
in searchable format according to country, region, fleet, port or
individual vessel, with more functionalities to be added after today’s
new website provides greater transparency, allowing all stakeholders to
have informed discussions about the appropriate uses for subsidies to
support the European fisheries sector,” he said.
shows that the majority (38%) of EU funding for vessels went on new
construction, with another 14% spent on modernising existing fleets. In
comparison, 36% of subsidies were spent on reducing fleet sizes
The environmental NGO alleges that 88% of the EU’s fish stocks are currently being over-fished, citing catch limits that are higher than scientists advise, unselective fishing methods, lack of enforcement of rules governing illegal, unregulated unreported fishing among the root causes of the problem.
“Subsidies for modernisation maintain and even exacerbate overcapacity,” Knigge said, explaining that “it becomes awkward when vessels are catching their annual quotas in three weeks.”
“Fishing is a unique sector of the economy in that efficiency gains aren’t always a good thing. Modernisation subsidies aren’t good if they exacerbate the problem of overcapacity,” he explained.
“We want EU funding to go to more sustainable ways of fishing, and we hope this data will help to expose
Other environmental NGOs share the view that too much EU money is being spent on modernising fleets.
Ocean 2012, a network of organisations committed to preventing over-fishing in European waters, says EU fisheries are “characterised by fleets that are able to catch more fish than are available, catch limits that are frequently set too high for reasons of political expediency, opaque decision-making procedures and a culture of non-compliance with the rules”.
National record-keeping ‘not good enough’
Praising the cooperative attitude of the Commission during the website’s development, Jack Thurston, co-founder of fishsubsidy.org, said the problem is not that the EU executive is negligent or incompetent, but that “record-keeping by the member states isn’t as good as it should be”.
Insisting that the site would not seek to present the information in a prejudicial manner, Thurston nevertheless said that “the Commission has its own problems with how it handles data and how it discloses it to us,” citing misspellings of place and vessel names and software incompatibility among the main problems in this regard.
Towards sustainable fisheries
Meanwhile, EU fisheries ministers yesterday adopted conclusions on the sustainable development of Europe’s aquaculture at a meeting in
Reacting to the news, the European Commission admitted that “the state of EU fish stocks continues to be dire,” conceding that total allowable catches, or TACs, continue to be set “well above the level which scientists consider sustainable”.
The EU executive insisted that the “underlying drivers” of this would be addressed in ongoing reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
The Commission is currently seeking stakeholders’ views on reforms outlined in an April 2009 Green Paper, and will present proposals to member states and MEPs with a view to having the new CFP enter into force in 2013.
“To have a debate, you need access to information. That’s why we’ve founded fishsubsidy.org,” said Mike Walker, communications associate for the Pew Environment Group’s European marine programme.
“This website will be an essential tool in reforming the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP),” said Markus Knigge, research director of the Pew Environment Group’s European marine programme and co-founder of fishsubsidy.org. “It shows that EU subsidies have been fuelling this overcapacity.”
“EU fish and marine habitats belong to all Europeans. If the European Commission is asking them to contribute to the CFP reform, then they need access to such information,” Knigge added.
Asked how he expected the EU executive would react to the launch of fishsubsidy.org, Knigge said Pew had not received an official reaction yet, but insisted that Commission Vice-President Siim Kallas had been “very supportive of us” as he was keen to promote transparency.
“The Commission has been very cooperative with us. We have been in a dialogue to improve their record-keeping and data quality,” said Jack Thurston, co-founder of the fishsubsidy.org and farmsubsidy.org websites and a fellow of the German Marshall Fund of the
“We’ve won the battle on farm subsidy transparency, and it helped the Commission to move forward on funding beneficiary transparency in general,” he added.
“With over 80% of assessed fish stocks in Community waters deemed over-fished and the fishing industry stumbling from one crisis to another, the current CFP is widely perceived as being a failure,” according to Ocean 2012, a network of NGOs committed to preventing over-fishing in European waters.
In two weeks’ time: Pew Environment Group to release study on overcapacity of EU fishing fleets.
2013: Target date for entry into force of reformed Common Fisheries Policy.
EU official documents
European Council: Fisheries Council 22-23 June
European Commission: A Strategy for European Aquaculture (Speech by Joe Borg; Fisheries Council; 23 June 2009)
European Commission: Commission welcomes positive Fisheries Council conclusions
Pew Environment Group: European Marine Programme
Font foto: FAO