Brussels, 23rd May 2008. With fishermen in France, Spain and Portugal pressing their governments for state aid to help with rising fuel bills, Seas At Risk is calling on all European governments to refuse to provide such environmentally harmful subsidies.

Seas At Risk is concerned that the 110 million euros of state aid promised by the French government will be used in this way, and that other European governments will follow suit.

Brussels, 23rd May 2008. With fishermen in France, Spain and Portugal pressing their governments for state aid to help with rising fuel bills, Seas At Risk is calling on all European governments to refuse to provide such environmentally harmful subsidies.

Seas At Risk is concerned that the 110 million euros of state aid promised by the French government will be used in this way, and that other European governments will follow suit.

The availability of subsidised marine diesel oil encourages fuel-intensive fishing techniques that are highly destructive of other marine life and contribute disproportionately to greenhouse gas emissions. Marine fuel is already exempt from taxes and therefore cheaper than ordinary car or household fuel and subsidies will make the situation even worse. Instead of fuel subsidies, fishers should be encouraged to move away from (active) fuel-intensive and environmentally harmful techniques such as beam-trawling to alternative (passive) techniques that use less fuel and are generally less damaging to the environment.

“Fuel subsidies will provide short term relief for fishers, but will ultimately worsen their situation” says Monica Verbeek, fisheries policy officer with Seas At Risk. Fuel subsidies reduce operating costs, enhance fishing effort and increase pressure on already over-fished stocks. Further depletion of fish stocks means that fishers have to go further to find fish and in doing so end up burning more fuel per kilo of landed fish, leading to a destructive cycle of depleted fish stocks, rising fuel bills, increasing CO2 emissions and the destruction of marine life. Fuel subsidies also support economically unprofitable practices, undermining future economic benefits. Their tendency to distort competition means they are in theory not allowed under EU law, but there are loopholes in the regulations.

“The only long-term sustainable solution which will not bring further destruction to the marine environment is the shift to alternative techniques using less fuel” highlights Monica Verbeek. “In the Danish flatfish fishery for example, the amount of diesel burnt per kg of caught fish could be reduced by a factor of 15 by switching from beamtrawling to Danish seine. If any help is provided to fishers in the current fuel price crisis, it should be to promote and facilitate the shift to such alternative techniques.”

The subsidy promised by the French government has already triggered similar actions across Europe. Portuguese and Spanish fishermen have announced that they will stop all fishing activity from the 30th of May, until their governments provide them with aid for their fuel costs. Governments should be aware of the dangers and questionable legality of granting such subsidies under pressure from their fisheries sectors.

Press release

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