The Covid-19 pandemic has disrupted seafood supply chains, leading the EU institutions and Member States to react quickly, allocating funds to address the health and economic impacts on the seafood production industry. However, any policy proposal or stimulus package for the maritime sector must contribute to rebuilding a healthier, more resilient and socially just Blue Economy. In a recent paper, Seas At Risk, together with 11 other marine NGOs, has devised a principle-based approach to assess post-Covid-19 fisheries support policies in light of this overarching objective.

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The 10 principles are:

  • Concurrent crisis response: Policies to address one crisis should have a positive impact on other existing crises and (to the extent possible) anticipate future crises.
  • Efficiency: Obtain the best results with limited resources.
  • Rationality: Effective policy requires clear linkage between the specific crisis and the policy proposal.
  • Speed: A crisis requires a rapid response.
  • Institutional integrity: Support measures should respect existing regulations and institutions.
  • Anti-abuse: Ensure that policies are directed towards their intended recipients.
  • Consultation: Engage industry and civil society in policy generation.
  • Clarity and transparency: Policy intent should be clearly stated and the outcome monitored.
  • Conditionality: Clear eligibility criteria and transparent procedures for application.
  • Integration: Support policies do not exist in a vacuum and should strengthen policies in other areas.

Based on these principles, successful fisheries policies should:

  • Ensure a safer working environment by financially supporting the acquisition of personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves.
  • Enhance remote surveillance and non-observer monitoring programmes (e.g. cameras, electronic reporting systems) to ensure that essential data is collected and that illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing does not undercut law-abiding fishers and the marine environment. Legitimate concerns about the potential exposure of observers, crew, inspectors, and port workers to the virus necessarily compromise monitoring and control of fishing activities during the crisis.
  • Compensate lost fishing income due to the Covid-19 pandemic through income support schemes, including the self-employed and fishers whose income stems from a revenue share.
  • Make support for fixed business costs conditional on improved environmental performance, such as adoption of low (or lower) impact fishing gear, remote electronic monitoring, and/or stunning equipment to improve fish welfare conditions.
  • Give more flexibility to fishermen to use their fishing opportunities and fully utilise their quota allocations within the year, as some fisheries may fail to use the entire Total Allowable Catch (TAC) in 2020 due to Covid-19. This will allow the targeting of fish populations when they are most abundant and avoid harmful fishing during spawning season.

While Covid-19 response measures may offer support for one year, a healthy and resilient marine environment can support livelihoods for years to come. A longer-term vision for rebuilding in light of ecosystem restoration is provided in the Blue Manifesto – Roadmap to a healthy ocean in 2030. This pathway should include investments in the marine environment and more resilient labour models for the fisheries sector. Financial supports must move away from harmful subsidies and towards a system where fishing industry bears the cost of fisheries management, access to a limited public resource and environmental damage.