European Commission warned harmful subsidies risk overfishing

Lawyers are warning the European Commission not to allow harmful subsidies that could lead to overfishing.

The Commission has opened a public consultation on its plan to amend state aid fisheries guidelines that would authorise funding for the construction of fishing vessels in the EU’s outermost regions – overseas territories administered by France, Portugal and Spain.

But environmental law organisation ClientEarth says such subsidies are internationally recognised as harmful because they encourage overcapacity and overfishing, a growing issue for a third of fish stocks worldwide.

ClientEarth lawyer Klaudija Cremers said: “We are concerned that this rule change is detrimental to the sustainability of fisheries in the outermost regions. By distorting the true costs of fishing, subsidies can make fishing seem more lucrative than it is in reality.

“Allowing state aid for the construction of fishing vessels goes against the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy to end overfishing, undermines the United Nations and the World Trade Organization’s objectives to eliminate harmful subsidies, and sets a bad example from the EU to political leaders around the world.

“The special status of these regions should not be a blank cheque for the EU to disregard its international commitments.”

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for oceans calls for the prohibition of fisheries subsidies that contribute to overcapacity and overfishing by 2020. Moreover, the EU has been negotiating for a prohibition on using these harmful subsidies at World Trade Organization level since 2001.

Globally, taxpayers still spend approximately US$30 billion a year on fisheries subsidies, two-thirds of which are capacity-enhancing subsidies that encourage unsustainable, destructive and even illegal fishing practices.

The EU’s public consultation closes on 27th September.

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