The “trilogue” negotiations for the future EU fisheries subsidies’ instrument – the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) – are ongoing between the three European institutions: European Commission, Parliament and Council.
One topic that is receiving increased attention is support to small-scale fisheries. On her website, the European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki highlights that: “Within this new [subsidies] framework to come, investments into small-scale fisheries will be increased.” She states that higher levels of subsidies will be available for small vessels, new fishing gear, safety measures, and the promotion and labelling of fish products. Young people who want to enter the profession will also be granted specific assistance. Moreover, “community-led” local development, financially supported through fisheries local action groups, will help fisheries communities to diversify their economic activities, especially when boats are not fishing, for instance during biological rest periods. The Commissioner also believes that small-scale fisheries’ influence in the decision-making process will be strengthened: “We hope to see them participating more in our advisory bodies and consultation procedures.”
These various elements of support for the small-scale sector are indeed reflected in the positions voted for by the Parliament and the Council, suggesting that they will remain in the final compromise between these institutions.
However, one aspect that is still being questioned by some member states, such as Spain, is the definition of small-scale fishing. According to the definition currently proposed, small-scale fisheries eligible for the specific EMFF support are restricted to vessels of less than 12 meters, and “not using towed gear” in the manner of trawlers. In some member states – where small trawlers consider themselves to be part of small-scale fisheries, and therefore eligible for this specific support – this definition is creating tensions. During the 1st Congress held in November on economic and social sustainability in the fishing sector, the Spanish administration deplored the lack of unity between small-scale fisheries and industrial fisheries that “do not consider themselves belonging to the same sector”. They emphasised their need for everybody’s support for defending Spanish interests at the EU level.
European small-scale, non-trawl fisheries, which represent the majority of the sector in terms of vessels or people employed, have been largely overlooked until now, and have benefited from a small portion of EU subsidies compared to their importance. The differentiated treatment they are likely to receive in the future EMFF should address this imbalance through a wide range of subsidised actions – new vessels and gear, marketing, diversification, training of young fishers, etc. It is likely that the EU position in international forums discussing small-scale fisheries, like WTO and FAO, will reflect these evolutions. This will support ACP countries’ views that their small-scale fisheries deserve differentiated treatment. Another issue is that of trawling. Trawlers were already excluded from an earlier EU small-scale fisheries definition used for subsidies allocation. They now want to be recognised as small-scale fisheries because of the larger financial support that will accrue to this sub-sector. The economic inefficiency of the generally costly trawlers’ operations makes them dependent on subsidies for their survival. If they do not receive such support, some operators may find it more beneficial to sell their trawler, or reflag through joint ventures with third countries, including ACP countries. ACP countries should cautiously assess the economic, environmental and social costs of these vessels before accepting such vessels under their flag and/or in their waters.