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Fishing for Better Subsidies


In a bold statement prioritizing the sustainability of the oceans, the United Nations has called for the drastic reduction of subsidies paid to the commercial fishing industry and a US$8 billion annual investment to rebuild the world’s marine environments.  At the same time, the European coalition OCEAN2012 is putting pressure on Maria Damanaki, the Commissioner for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries for the European Commission, to place environmental sustainability first in the 2012 reform of the Common Fisheries Policy which will determine catch limits, size of fishing fleets and how subsidies are used.


Of the US$27 billion spent annually on fishing industry subsidies worldwide, just $8 billion are used on what the UN calls “good” subsidies, such creating and managing marine protected areas, while the rest go towards expansion of fishing capacity in spite of its already unsustainable state. In its ground-breaking report Green Economy, the UN Environmental Program predicts that redirecting subsidies to better manage marine environments, help depleted stocks to recover and support workers of the fishing industry in alternative livelihoods would actually raise catches and generate benefits to the industry, consumers and the global economy by as much as US$1.7 trillion over the next 40 years. The aim being to reduce the overall intensity of global fishing to a point where fisheries produce their optimum sustainable yield.


With the third biggest fleet in the world, a seat in almost all regional fisheries management organization, operations in every ocean around the globe, and the number one importer of fisheries products, Europe has much influence on the management of global fisheries, says OCEAN2012. Yet the EU is no shining example.  After years of intensive fishing using unsustainable fishing practices, fish populations in European waters have experienced a dramatic decline with over 80% of assessed EU fish stocks considered overfished, resulting in fewer and smaller fish being caught.


Fishing fleets in Europe are three times the size needed to catch the set quotas, fishing quotas are often set higher than that recommended by scientists, and according to OCEAN2012, “the EU continues to provide subsidies to modernize fleets rather than focusing on mitigating overcapacity or investing in technologies that could support more sustainable fisheries. Furthermore, exemption from fuel tax, the cost of national administration, fisheries research and control measures could also be considered a subsidy to the fishing sector. In several Member States, it has been estimated that the cost of fishing to the public budgets exceeds the total value of the catches. As a result, we are currently paying for our fish twice, through subsidies and in the shop.”


With a mission to “ensure that the 2012 reform of the EU Common Fisheries Policy stops overfishing, end destructive fishing practices and delivers fair and equitable use of healthy fish stocks,” OCEAN2012 used the inaugural European Fish Week earlier this month as an opportunity to launch a petition asking for environmental sustainability to be placed first in the reform.  The coalition, which has already gathered over 1,900 signatures on its petition including support from Slow Food, asserts that the improvement of this policy is fundamental to making European fisheries economically, socially and environmentally sustainable. 



Click here to sign OCEAN2012's petition or find out more about European Fish Week.


Click here for more information on the UN’s stance on subsidies.


Click here for more information on the EU Common Fisheries Policy.



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