Rather than encouraging sustainable fishing, EU subsidies have been fuelling the overcapacity of Europe’s fishing fleets with consequent depletion of valuable fish stocks, according to new research by the NGOs Pew Environment Group and EU Transperency.
The two organizations spent almost two years trying to obtain figures for the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) subsidies. Today they launched a new website – fishsubsidy.org – which analyses data obtained from the European Commission and member governments. Of €4.4bn in EU handouts to the fishing industry between 1994-2006, Spain got more than €2.7bn (48%).
According to the research, the majority (38%) of EU funding for vessels went on new construction, with another 14% spent on modernizing existing fleets. In comparison, 36% of subsidies were spent on reducing fleet sizes (scrapping).
The figures show some of the biggest cash windfalls went to ships and firms who have been targeted for their questionable operations. Three vessels blacklisted by Greenpeace were given handouts believed to run into millions and a Spanish trawler named by Greenpeace as the worst offenders against vulnerable stocks of Mediterranean blue fin tuna received more than €4m in EU subsidies.
Pew reports that that 88 percent of the EU’s fish stocks are currently being over-fished, and that the major causes of this situation are catch limits which are higher than scientists advise, unselective fishing methods, lack of enforcement of rules governing illegal, and unregulated unreported fishing.
Many environmental groups share the view that too much EU money is being spent on modernizing fleets. Ocean 2012, a network of organizations committed to preventing over-fishing in European waters, says EU fisheries are: “characterized by fleets that are able to catch more fish than are available, catch limits that are frequently set too high for reasons of political expediency, opaque decision-making procedures and a culture of non-compliance with the rules”.