Tuesday, July 19, 2011

How the EU quietly empties African waters

Making European fisheries more sustainable, stop overfishing and ban fish discards - those are the centerpieces of the new European fisheries policy. Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki presented it to the media and the European Parliament last week; now it will go through the institutions and the European lobbies. While fisheries lobbies, NGOs and the European Parliament are starting to haggle about new fisheries quotas (set to be auctioned in much the same way as CO2 emission allowances are now), little attention goes to the fact that the EU currently subsidizes European fisheries in third-country waters with 65€ per ton.

The Commission regularly negotiates fisheries protocols with third countries, which are subsequently agreed between the EP's Fisheries and Development Committee (curtailed by the assent procedure, see Art. 218(6)(a) TFEU) and nodded off by the Council. In these protocols, lawmakers specify an upper limit of catches (e.g. 52000 tons per year in Seychelles). Up to this limit, the EU guarantees payment to the third country government, regardless of the number of total catches (fishermen add another 35€/ton). For every catch beyond the limit, the EU doubles its contribution to 130€/ton.

In effect, this not only encourages fishermen to rid the Seychelles of a full 52000 tons per year until 2014 (if they catch less, you and me provide free money to the Seychelles government), but also encourages the Seychelles government to neglect their fish stocks and to pocket a full 165€ for every ton exceeding the limit of 52000 tons/year. The agreement with São Tomé and Príncipe is based on the same terms, while new agreements with Cape Verde and Gabon are currently in the making. Overall, 15 agreements with developing countries are in force today. The consequences of the EU's policies are disastrous: No more fish by 2030.

In its new proposal, the Commission acknowledges that until now it had no information about other fisheries agreements concluded by the partner country, so that it was "often impossible to [...] determine the share of the surplus to be sustainably fished by the EU fleet". The new Common Fisheries Policy will subject EU vessels in foreign waters to the quota trading system, but the current agreements are valid until 2014 and the CFP reform is expected to take a few years until it is adopted. Therefore, in the short term, the EU will continue exploiting foreign waters and depleting African countries of the fish stocks.

3 July was the day of the year on which we started eating non-EU fish. If we want to save fish stocks in Africa, we should get selective about the fish we eat.

Update 16/09/2011: In a video interview, influential Development MEP Charles Goerens from Luxembourg told me that the fisheries agreements between the EU and African countries should in effect be phased out.

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