Eight countries, led by Spain and France, who were already making this request last year, have sent a joint letter to the EC Commissioner and the Cyprus presidency, asking them to reconsider the ending of subsidies for scrapping and modernisation, and maintain those under certain circumstances in the next financial period 2014-2020. The Spanish minister of fisheries, commenting on the initiative, welcomed the fact that such a large group of countries were now joining Spain in their demands to the EU: ‘we cannot go from the previous system, based on public aid, to a system which stops it completely’, he said.
The letter underlines that funds should be made available for modernisation of the fleet, particularly regarding the reduction of the environmental impact of fisheries, the improvement of the vessels’ energy efficiency, improvement of on-board facilities for conservation, and safety on board ‘provided it doesn’t lead to increase in fishing capacity’. For this reason, the signatories –Spain, France, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Ireland, Slovenia – argue that it is necessary ‘to include the replacement and modernisation of engines.’
The eight fisheries ministers also call for continuation of aid for scrapping vessels, as well as for temporary cessation of activities, ‘in order to adjust the fishing effort’. Indeed, the ministers recognise that, in order to reach some of the CFP reform objectives, like MSY (maximum sustainable yield) for fish stocks, ‘adjustments will have to be made to some European fleets’.
Most of the signatories of the joint letter have significant distant-water fishing fleets, many operating in ACP waters. The outcome of this discussion will therefore have impacts on the operations of EU fleets in ACP waters. Some of the demands made, if they are agreed in the reform, may introduce a bias in the conditions of competition between EU fleets and local fleets. Typically, and given the importance of fuel costs in fishing operations, the subsidised replacement of existing engines by more efficient, less fuel-consuming ones, may provide an important economic advantage to EU fleets over fleets that do not benefit from such technologies. Some other demands made may in fact have a positive impact for ACP fisheries: well targeted scrapping funds may indeed help to adjust some EU fleets that have seen their fishing possibilities in ACP waters diminish, because of sustainability concerns, for example some coastal trawlers active in West Africa. The chances that some form of scrapping funds will be maintained in the reformed CFP, as a way of dealing with over-capacity, are rising, as the current EC proposal for addressing this issue – the setting up of a market for fishing rights – is being increasingly questioned by member states.