On 12-13 October in Tallinn, the Estonian presidency of the EU and the European Commission jointly organised a conference on the implementation and future of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. Seas At Risk spoke in support of funding for marine protection to achieve healthy productive seas, the basis for thriving coastal communities.

The conference “Beyond 2020: Supporting Europe's Coastal Communities”  with over 70 selected speakers attracted stakeholders from all over Europe. With a very low use so far by Member States of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and a very likely reduced EU budget after 2020, the conference addressed a large number of issues relating to the need and effectiveness of the fund and its future. 

Many speakers blamed the late political agreement on the EMFF and the complex (national) procedures to apply for the fund, rather than lack of need, for the low uptake. Especially the small scale sector has little access to the funds due to the bureaucracy involved in the application process. However, Mr Machado, Director General of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for maritime affairs and fisheries, said that complexity was not an excuse for the low uptake, warned for the reduction of the future EU budget and told the participants to make use of the money available now.  

Several parts of the fishing industry have seen their profitability increase over the past few years, mainly due to recovering fish stocks and low fuel prices. Most speakers therefore acknowledged the need to ensure European funding will contribute to recovery of fish stocks. Funding for data collection, monitoring and control, the basis for fisheries management, was also seen as crucial. However, there was a large divide in views about the continuation of some subsidies under the EMFF that could result in overcapacity of the fishing fleet and overfishing.

In her statement Dr Monica Verbeek, Executive Director of Seas At Risk, highlighted that rather than allowing for such potentially “harmful subsidies”, any future fisheries and maritime fund must contribute to lower impacts on the marine environment and to abundant fish stocks. She noted that the public wants healthy and productive seas for their tax payers money – as evidenced by the fact that already over 100,000 people signed the Seas At Risk petition in support of the marine directive. Healthy and productive seas are the basis for prosperous, thriving coastal communities.

Given the importance of a healthy marine environment for coastal communities, Seas At Risk would like to see a significant part of the EMFF dedicated to support the implementation of the Marine Strategy Framework Directive and the designation and management of marine protected areas. This is currently not the case, which could explain the worrying lack of attention for this type of issues at the conference and a lack of participants representing environmental authorities. With all the attention and funding for fisheries and aquaculture, funding in support of the marine environment seems to be the main gap that needs to be addressed in the next budget period.

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