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EU Fishing Policies Affecting the South

(Les politiques européennes de pêche affectent le Sud)

Chandrika SHARMA

12 / 1997

In 1990, the total fleet of the European Union (EU)accounted for a fifth of global marine catches , 28 per cent of which were harvested from either the high seas or the waters of other countries. In addition, the EU imported nearly seven million tonnes of fishery products that year. On its own, it absorbed 38 per cent of the international trade in fishery products. Not surprising, therefore, that the impact of EU fisheries policies extend beyond its borders, especially affecting developing countries.

Many factors underlying and strengthening this impact. The two most important are: the EU’s need to ensure supply for its markets and its agro-food industries, in order to remain competitive in international markets; and its failure to manage its own fishery resources.

Most of the commercial stocks within EU waters are considered `at risk’, largely as a result of poor management. Despite the fragile state of its own resources, the EU has made little serious effort to reduce overcapacity within its fishing fleet.

A 1991 report by the Commission of European Communities (CEC)to the European Parliament on the mid-term review of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), is revealing. In the period 1983-1990, the Community devoted 41 per cent of its structural budget either to new vessel constructions (30 per cent)or to the modernisation of existing ones (14 per cent). In comparison, it "only" spent 14 per cent of this budget in adjusting fishing capacity (not only by scrapping vessels but also through exporting them to other countries).

If one takes into account that those subsidies encouraged even larger investments, and that the vessels that were `adjusted’ were, as a rule, the less efficient ones, the result of the CEC policy is evident: a significant increase of EC fishing capacity.

As fishing overcapacity became a clear problem even for the Commission, given the progressive deterioration of EU resources, the need to find a solution entered the range of political priorities.

This led to the introduction of `joint ventures’ into the EU structural legislation in 1990. Spain had already used this formula: shipowners setting up a fishing company with anyone from a country rich in fishing resources received a subsidy to sell their fishing vessels to this joint venture. In fact, before entering the EEC, Spain had already exported 216 vessels in this way.

For the EU, this opened new possibilities of re-deploying the excess fishing capacity that its irresponsible policy had generated.>From the very start, not only large freezer trawlers, but also much smaller vessels were allocated a specific range of subsidies.

Significantly, one of the main objectives of the `New CFP’ adopted in 1992 was to attain a balance between available resources and fishing capacity. In 1993, the Financial Instrument for Fisheries Orientation (IFOP)was created. Between 1994 and 1999 the IFOP plans to spend 1140 million ECU in Spain alone.

More recently, in 1996, Emma Bonino, the Commission’s Fisheries Commissar, the EU’s highest political fisheries authority, declared that there was a basic problem of "fishing overcapacity". According to Bonino, decreasing fishing overcapacity, via scrapping of joint ventures, is at the heart of the new CFP.

Impressive as this determination may seem, apparently the reality lies in the opposite direction. A look into the allocations of the IFOP in the case of Spain shows just that. Although 36 per cent of the total budget is assigned for `fleet readjustments’, another 30 per cent is still assigned for `fleet renewal’, that is, new constructions and modernisation of existing vessels.

The foreseeable result is a new increase in the fishing capacity and a further industrialisation of European fishing activities. This will easily result in more vessels - and crews -- becoming redundant and future subjects for `fleet readjustment’. Are European citizens subsidising the building of vessels that in a near future will have to be exported into new - and also subsidised - joint ventures?



, Europe


EU policies have made little progress in reducing the size of its fleet or overall fishing effort. While its own resources continue to be in a poor state, the compulsion to meet the massive internal demand for fish, and to provide employment to its fleet, have led the EU to adopt policies that have actually encouraged the export of fishing capacity to the waters of Southern countries. While this is itself has contributed to overfishing in Southern waters and to the marginalisation of the artisanal sector, the most important impacts have been more subtle: the export of an ideology and a model for the exploitation of marine resources. This ideology assumes and promotes the superiority of industrial fisheries over small-scale fisheries, the convenience to prioritise supply to international markets over domestic markets and the `rationality’ and `scientific dimension’ of a management model that has had such a damaging impact in its own waters.

In applying the same scientific and economic principles and fishing strategy that have endangered ecosystems in its own waters, the EU will undoubtedly contribute to the destruction of the marine environment in all of the zones where its fishing activities are conducted, or where its development model is copied. It will also contribute to the progressive marginalisation of artisanal fishworkers and other weaker sectors and to the impoverishment, concentration and privatisation of resources. Furthermore, the promotion of export markets may easily decrease local access to fish- the traditional source of protein for the poor.


Articles et dossiers

MARTINEZ, Anna Rosa; TUDELA, Sergi, Inside the homes of the victims in. Samudra Report, 1996/03, 14

ICSF (International Collective in Support of Fishworkers) - 27 College Road, Chennai 600006, INDIA - Tel. (91) 44-2827 5303 - Fax (91) 44-2825 4457 - Inde - - icsf (@)

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