Today, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament decided to reintroduce in the future European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) – which amounts to approximately 6 billion Euros – subsidies which are harmful to the environment and which were phased out already 15 years ago.

“The decision taken today is a dramatic backwards step. Allocating taxpayers’ money to directly finance the construction of new vessels or the replacement of engines is counter-productive. This will fuel fisheries’ overcapacity, exacerbating the overfishing problem, without any guarantee of delivering any public good”, said Andrea Ripol, Fisheries Policy Officer at Seas At Risk.

While evidence shows that the capacity of the European fishing fleet has been decreasing for years, fishing vessels catch more and more fish due to technological progress. In the past, the allocation of subsidies for fleet renewal led to a build-up of excessive fishing capacity in Europe. This means that currently too many fishing vessels chase too few fish. The European Parliament’s decision to reintroduce such subsidies for the renewal of the fleet is thus likely to increase overfishing. The safety argument put forward to justify fleet renewal and engine replacement is misleading, as fishing accidents are typically caused by human error rather than the age of the vessel. A more effective way to secure safety at sea would be to invest in crew and community schemes rather than in vessels and machinery.

Despite the historic decline in marine biodiversity and the recent appeal of over 50,000 citizens, the European Parliament Fisheries Committee voted against ring-fencing a sufficient share of the new fund for the protection of marine ecosystems. Instead, the share of the fund dedicated to data collection and control has remained unchanged, despite a recognised need for additional resources to carry out these activities to ensure sustainable fishing. Seas At Risk, together with other NGOs, advocated for ring-fencing at least 25% of the fund for activities that support the protection and restoration of marine biodiversity and ecosystems, with a further 25% allocated to monitoring and control of fishing activities and data collection.

Provisions in the current proposal that support the reintroduction of harmful subsidies:

  • Article 16 introduces subsidies for the replacement of engines and first acquisition of new fishing vessels for the small-scale fleet (<12m).
  • Article 29 introduces subsidies for the construction of new fishing vessels in the Outermost Regions, in addition to the subsidy for the acquisition of new engines. The EU phased out these types of subsidies in 2004.
  • Article 17 reintroduces subsidies for scrapping old fishing vessels. While this is intended to support vessels exiting the sector and tackle overcapacity, the European Court of Auditors called such a measure controversial, due to its unintended effect of encouraging fishers to stay in business. The current fund began to phase out these types of subsidies from 31 December 2017.
  • Article 16 allows the option to pay fishers while they are not fishing. Although money for “temporary cessation” is often described as supporting conservation objectives, these schemes artificially maintain excessive fishing capacity – and the associated damaging environmental and economic effects – by artificially increasing profitability in the short-term.


The marine environment is currently facing unprecedented environmental degradation, through pollution, littering, unsustainable fishing and seabed destruction. Around 40% of the fish stocks in the Atlantic and more than 85% in the Mediterranean are currently overfished. In some cases, fleets are two to three times larger than sustainable fishing would allow.

The Maritime Fisheries And Aquaculture Fund is the financial instrument that supports the implementation of the Common Fisheries Policy the Integrated Maritime Policy, as well as environmental legislation for the protection of the marine environment, such as the Marine Strategy Framework Directive, the Birds and Habitats Directives. The programme runs from 2021-2027.

In April 2019, the European Parliament will be called upon to vote the Fisheries Committee’s proposal. The file will then pass through inter-institutional negotiations between the European Commission, Parliament and Council before a final decision is adopted.