Press release: 3 June 2020

Reintroducing harmful subsidies with Covid-19 excuse would threaten fisheries sector, lawyers warn

Environmental lawyers have warned that the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic must not be used as an excuse to lift the ban on harmful fisheries subsidies as they represent a real threat to the environment and the fishing industry.

As trilogue negotiations to decide on the content of the next European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) resume, lawyers from ClientEarth have called on decision makers to maintain the ban on harmful subsidies and focus on more needed actions.

Such subsidies have been banned for 15 years in Europe but many decision makers are considering reintroducing them in the 2021-2027 fisheries fund.

Studies have shown subsidies to fund modernisation of vessels, engine replacement or the temporary cessation of fishing activities can lead to overcapacity, overfishing and keep some fishing companies artificially afloat. They can also cause inequality within the industry, with 80% of subsidies shown to benefit a small number of large-scale fishing companies.

In a report to decision makers – based on analysis of how the current EMFF has been implemented in France, Spain and Ireland – lawyers have highlighted good and bad practices and set a series of recommendations to make a better use of EU taxpayers’ money, in line with the Green Deal.

They have called for prioritising vital measures such as ring fencing budgets for the protection or restoration of marine biodiversity, data collection and fisheries control for a transition towards a low impact fishing or diversification outside the sector.

ClientEarth fisheries lawyer Flaminia Tacconi said: “There is a real risk that reintroducing subsidies will impact the viability of the sector, the preservation of social fabric in coastal communities and the protection of the marine environment.

“Bringing back harmful fishing subsidies using the excuse of the economic downturn would be the opposite of ‘building back better’. On the contrary, it would pave the way for less sustainable fishing, less environmental protection or restoration and more structural problems for the industry.

“These problems will mostly impact small and local fishers who play a vital role for coastal communities.”

“The COVID crisis shows us the importance of preserving ecosystems and biodiversity including marine ecosystems – marine genetic material is crucial for our health and was used to develop the test to diagnose the virus.

“The EMFF 2021-2027 is the most important financial instrument we can use to support the protection and restoration of fish stocks and the wider marine environment, which is the starting point for a more viable, resilient and socially equitable fisheries sector.”


About ClientEarth

ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.