A paper published by the scientific journal Marine Policy examines the evolution of EU fishing agreements with Madagascar since 1986, when the first agreement was signed. The paper highlights that ‘since 1986, EU quotas increased by 30% while the fees paid by the EU decreased by 20%’. For the authors, this shows that the EU agreements with Madagascar ‘are in direct contradiction to the goals set forth by the CFP, which states that benefits of agreements should be directed towards developing countries, and not towards private EU entities’.
The authors propose a new framework for setting catch quotas and fees in future agreements, in a way that would benefit Madagascar more. In that framework, all costs of agreements should be borne directly by the industries, whilst EU development assistance should be decoupled from them, and should focus on enhancing the host countries’ monitoring and enforcement capacities.
The study also notes that private agreements have been negotiated between Madagascar and two French companies behind closed doors and licences issued with no public records of fees paid to individuals or the state: ‘As such, these agreements may not have followed the principles of good fisheries governance or accountability. Worryingly, the EU has noted its disapproval of such “side agreements”, without having the means to prevent them from happening’.
The Ambassador of the EU in Madagascar responded to the study in an interview, maintaining that ‘some conclusions or assertions appear based on a simplistic approach, and contain a number of inaccuracies or approximations’. He stressed that the compensation is based on a reference tonnage which is not a quota as mentioned by the authors of the study, but potential catches depending on the level of utilisation of the fishing possibilities negotiated: ‘It is therefore quite conceivable that the fishing opportunities negotiated are not always fully used by the EU fleet, but this doesn’t mean the compensation is diminished’. He also recalled that the access negotiated takes due account of the best scientific advice and the management recommendations issued by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) – and these IOTC management measures are also not based on catch limits, but on fishing capacity limits, expressed in a number of licenses or authorisations to fish.
He underlined that, apart from the agreement itself, through technical or financial support given to regional organisations for monitoring, control and surveillance (MCS) initiatives, the EU is supporting Madagascar for promoting responsible fishing. He finally underlined that EU agreements are transparent, unlike ‘certain foreign fleets operating in the waters of the Indian Ocean, including the Malagasy EEZ, in full opacity and most perfect impunity’.
This study does indeed contain some inaccuracies, such as the confusion between the reference tonnage and a catch quota, or the misunderstanding of EU FPA objectives, which try to achieve mutually beneficial agreements while promoting sustainable fisheries, rather than benefiting only one party to the agreement. Recommendations from the study echo the proposals that continue to be discussed by EU institutions and stakeholders in the context of CFP reform. One issue which merits further consideration is what is described in the study as ‘side agreements’ – agreements signed between EU companies with ACP countries outside an FPA, concerning vessels flying a non-EU flag. This raises the question of the ‘beneficial ownership’ – and potential responsibilities attached to it – an issue which is being discussed at international level. To address this issue, concerted action in the relevant international forums is needed, which should be promoted by the EU and ACP countries, as they are both, in different ways, affected by the opacity surrounding such arrangements.