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Fishers and NGOs urge EU countries to stop funding destructive fishing with public money

The Low Impact Fishers of Europe and environmental NGOs ClientEarth, BirdLife and WWF call on EU countries to stop funding destructive industrial fishing with EU taxpayers’ money.

In a briefing sent today, they warn Member States against maintaining an old and broken system that allows EU countries to subsidise environment-harming measures which mostly benefit the biggest and most destructive fishing operations. They call upon EU countries to turn the tide by using EU funds to support a transition towards low-impact fishing and the protection and restoration of our ocean.

France and Spain have already been exposed for using EU money to finance powerful engines for fishing vessels – driving overcapacity and overfishing – while neglecting to allocate enough money for improving safety on board, protecting nature or developing coastal communities.

EU officials report that 80% of the European maritime and fisheries fund is currently going to owners of industrial fishing vessels above 12 metres using dangerously powerful and potentially destructive gear. These only make up 20% of the fleet by vessel numbers, but take 95% of catch, concentrating the quota in ever fewer hands.  

Currently, EU Member States are rolling out their plans to use their share of the newly agreed European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) for the next seven years for a total of €6 billion. The organisations have called on governments to make the right choice for fishers, the marine environment and the climate.

Low Impact Fishers of Europe Executive Secretary Brian O’Riordan said:

“Misuse of EU subsidies has created a distorted sea in Europe, prejudicing the future prospects of small-scale, low impact fishers and their communities, whose vessels comprise the majority of the fleet in terms of vessel numbers. Fisheries and the marine environment are public resources that must be managed  sustainably if fishing is to have a future. Public money should be used for the public good, and not for individual or corporate gain. A fresh approach to funding should help us to fish better, not to fish more. We ask EU countries to be fair by making the right choice for the environment and low impact fishers.”

The ocean is one of the biggest carbon sinks on the planet. But overfishing and industrial fishing techniques such as bottom trawling, are increasingly affecting its fragile ecosystems and undermining its capacity to mitigate climate change.

In their briefing to decision-makers, the NGOs present 15 recommendations to ensure a fair allocation of money, focusing on activities to restore and protect our ocean, and to develop coastal communities and low impact fishers.

ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said:

“Governments must put their money where their mouths are and prioritise ocean protection – which is vital for fish stocks, climate change mitigation and the development of coastal communities. They should cease financing vessels for the big fishing industry, which only drives overcapacity, overfishing and the unnecessary killing of sensitive species. We need a fairer allocation of funds to turn this vicious circle into a virtuous one.”


Notes to editors

The total European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) budget for 2021-2027 is €6.108 billion.

Low impact fishers and their communities make up for 70% of the fleet in terms of vessel numbers

European Commission DG MARE Elisa Roller said to the PECH committee of the European Parliament on 2nd of October 2019 that 80% of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund was going to owners of industrial vessels above 12 meters.

They include:

  • the need to dedicate 25% of the budget to the restoration and conservation of the marine environment;
  • Improve traceability through digitisation and give preference to SMEs (i.e. small-scale fishers) when distributing EU money; and
  • Focusing large-scale fishers’ access to EU funds for projects related to implementing the landing obligation, training fishers for safety purposes,  increasing the selectivity of their fishing gear or moving towards low-impact fishing.

This report shows that France and Spain have misused the EU maritime and fisheries funds (EMFF- from 2014 to 2021): Two biggest recipients of EU fisheries fund misused EU tax payer money, report finds | ClientEarth

About us

Low Impact Fishers of Europe (LIFE): Launched in 2012 on the eve of the reformed Common Fisheries Policy, LIFE is a European-wide platform that unites European small-scale low impact fishers to achieve fair fisheries, healthy seas, and vibrant communities. 5% of the EU fish catch is produced by small-scale low impact fishing, supporting 70% of the fleet and providing 50% of the jobs at sea.

ClientEarth is a non-profit organisation that uses the law to create systemic change that protects the Earth for – and with – its inhabitants. We are tackling climate change, protecting nature and stopping pollution, with partners and citizens around the globe. We hold industry and governments to account, and defend everyone’s right to a healthy world. From our offices in Europe, Asia and the USA we shape, implement and enforce the law, to build a future for our planet in which people and nature can thrive together.

WWF is an independent conservation organisation, with over 30 million followers and a global network active through local leadership in nearly 100 countries. Our mission is to stop the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and to build a future in which people live in harmony with nature, by conserving the world’s biological diversity, ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable, and promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption. The European Policy Office contributes to the achievement of WWF’s global mission by leading the WWF network to shape EU policies impacting on the European and global environment.

BirdLife Europe and Central Asia is a partnership of 43 national conservation organisations and a leader in bird conservation. Our unique local to global approach enables us to deliver high impact and long-term conservation for the benefit of nature and people. BirdLife Europe and Central Asia is one of the six regional secretariats that compose BirdLife International. Based in Brussels, it supports the European and Central Asian Partnership and is present in 43 countries including all EU Member States. With more than 4100 staff in Europe, two million members and tens of thousands of skilled volunteers, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, together with its national partners, owns or manages more than 6000 nature sites totalling 320,000 hectares.

Image credits : Fishing vessel ©Paul Einerhand

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