Today the European Court of Auditors has released a report which severely condemns the way in which EU fisheries subsidies aimed at reducing fleet overcapacity have been used so far. The Court has found that billions of Euros of public expenditure have done little to align fleet capacity with available fishing opportunities.

The scathing report highlights how decommissioning programmes aimed at reducing fleet overcapacity have consumed vast amounts of taxpayers’ money without achieving any meaningful capacity reductions. In fact, the Court has found that loopholes in legislation, planning and monitoring have allowed Member States to subsidise measures that maintain or increase the fishing ability of vessels – such as modernisation measures.

Fleet overcapacity has been identified by the European Commission and by previous reports from the Court of Auditors as a key driver of overfishing, undermining both the sustainability of fish stocks and the long term viability of the fishing sector.

The Court examined whether the policy framework for reducing fleet overcapacity was clear, and whether the specific measures to address the problem have been well defined and implemented.

The auditors found that the policy framework contained significant weaknesses. In particular, the definition of fishing capacity using gross tonnage and horse power was insufficient to accurately determine a vessel’s ability to catch fish; the fleet capacity ceilings were set too high, and were therefore meaningless; and fishing overcapacity has not been well defined, meaning that it has been impossible to properly measure or assess it.

Regarding specific measures to address fleet overcapacity, the Court has found that inadequate objectives have meant that capacity reduction efforts have not been well targeted, with public funds being used to scrap vessels that had little or no impact on the target stocks. In addition, investments on board have contributed to increase the fleet’s ability to catch fish, and the reporting of expenditure and capacity reduction measures was inadequate.

The Court’s main conclusion was that “Member States have therefore failed to put in place effective measures to match the fishing capacity of their fishing fleets to fishing opportunities as required by the CFP. [...] The Commissions’ monitoring did not avoid this failure.”

Seas At Risk, together with BirdLife Europe, Greenpeace, OCEAN2012 and WWF, has issued a joint press release urging the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers to heed the Court’s recommendations and to ensure that the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy provides for a full assessment of the Union’s fishing capacity, coupled with stringent targets and deadlines for capacity reduction.

Photograph by the European Court of Auditors
Joint NGO press release

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