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EU Subsideies helped drive over-fishing

Source: Reuters - Wed 31st Mar 2010

European Union fishery sector subsidies worth billions of euros since 2000 have increased the bloc's fleet capacity and fed the decline in fish stocks, a report by campaigners the Pew Environment Group said on Tuesday.

About 17 % of EU and national subsidies - worth 4.9 billion euros between 2000 and 2006 - was spent on "positive measures" like scrapping vessels, while 29 % went on constructing and upgrading vessels, Pew said.

As a result, while the gross tonnage of the EU fishing fleet fell by 3 % during the period, the overall effect on capacity was more than offset by annual efficiency gains of 2-3 % through improved technology.

"It's like driving a car with your foot on the accelerator and the brake at the same time" said Jack Thurston, co-founder of website, who gathered much of the official data for the report.

Spain alone received 46 percent of all subsidies during the period, equal to 20 % of the total value of the country's fishing sector.

"At best this served to maintain the viability of enterprises through a phase of restructuring, but at worst it could have delayed inevitable and necessary reductions in capacity" the report said.

One of the strongest criticisms in the report is that most EU countries failed to check the compliance record of fishing vessels or the likely impact on fish stocks before allocating subsidies to operators.

For example, of subsidies worth 34.5 million euros paid to Europe's bluefin tuna fleet since 2000, 33.5 million was spent on upgrading vessels. The EU recently backed a ban on trade in bluefin, whose numbers have been decimated by over-fishing.

When the EU's common fisheries policy (CFP) is reformed from 2012, new funding criteria should exclude any measures that increase fishing capacity, Pew said. EU talks on the reform are expected to begin later this year.

The European Commission, which oversees the bloc's fisheries policy, said last year in a consultation on the CFP reform that nearly 90 % of EU fish stocks are currently over-exploited.

But responding to the Pew report, the EU executive said many of its criticisms had already been recognised in the last reform of the CFP in 2002, with subsidies for new vessel construction banned from 2004.

"We are currently conducting our own assessment (of the subsidies) which will be presented in mid-April," the EU executive said in a statement.

"This assessment coincides with some points with the Pew report, although the overall conclusions are less critical," it added.

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