With blatant disregard for the EU’s commitments on climate change and biodiversity loss, and in a move that could encourage further overfishing of depleted fish stocks, European Parliamentarians have voted favourably on a resolution urging the European Commission to increase national fuel subsidies for the fishing industry.

With blatant disregard for the EU’s commitments on climate change and biodiversity loss, and in a move that could encourage further overfishing of depleted fish stocks, European Parliamentarians have voted favourably on a resolution urging the European Commission to increase national fuel subsidies for the fishing industry.

The resolution argues that continuing rises in fuel prices are putting European fishermen in a difficult situation, and therefore urges the European Commission to allow Member States to increase de minimis state aid to the fishing sector.

For fisheries, the de minimis ceiling was limited to 3.000 euros until 2007. It was then increased tenfold to 30.000 euros per company over a period of three years. The Parliament resolution approved today, with 369 votes in favour and 203 against, calls for it to be raised yet again to 60.000 euros – a staggering twentyfold increase in less than 5 years.

Such an increase could make up as much as 48% of a vessel's annual operating cost, and a study conducted in 2009 concluded that it does distort competition between fleets of different Member States.

Monica Verbeek, Executive Director of Seas At Risk said: “It is shocking to see European Parliamentarians asking for such an increase in fuel aid at a time when most countries are going through budgetary constraints and when the Common Fisheries Policy reform process has clearly identified harmful subsidies as one of the major failings of the current CFP. It makes absolutely no sense from an economic or environmental perspective.”

There are three critical reasons against the provision of fuel subsidies:

Firstly, fuel subsidies directly contribute to vessels’ operating costs, which provides an incentive for a more intensive use of the vessels, thus encouraging greater fishing effort. Considering that 72% of assessed fish stocks in Europe are overexploited, increased effort is the last thing needed.

Secondly, the lack of disclosure and transparency in the attribution of de minimis aid means that public scrutiny of this instrument is impossible. Political pressure for state aid is high particularly in some Member States where subsidies are culturally taken for granted and expected to be maintained year on year, keeping economically unviable enterprises in business.

Finally, fuel subsidies also provide an incentive for fuel intensive, environmentally damaging fishing practices. Providing such subsidies is in complete contradiction with the EU’s commitments to reduce carbon emissions and halt biodiversity loss.

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