After months of tough negotiation, European policy makers have reached a political agreement for the future of EU fisheries subsidies, setting aside approximately €6.5bn in the European maritime and fisheries fund (EMFF) that will support the EU's fisheries sector until 2020.
The EMFF will support implementing the objectives of the common fisheries policy (CFP) that was agreed in 2013.
From an environmentalist perspective, the outcome still leaves a slight bitter taste in the mouth, but we had a hard setting to fight against, with a conservative fisheries council, political groups in the parliament not lined up to defend sustainable fisheries and the industry singing an old song about needing more funding for vessels to implement the CFP reform.
"Improved data collection is needed not only to underpin the recovery of fish stocks and the upcoming ban on discarding fish at sea, but also to facilitate data requirements under existing environmental legislation such as the marine strategy framework directive"
There are some major results that we can be satisfied with, the most striking and concrete being a significant increase in funding for member states for data collection, control and enforcement, an increase of 45 per cent and 68 per cent respectively.
In figures, this means that funding for data collection has been increased to €520m and for control and enforcement to €580m with an increased co-funding share through the EMFF. This will help to combat illegal fishing which still takes place at an alarmingly high level in some fisheries, with 40 per cent of the catch being illegal, and to improve the situation for data-limited fish stocks in European seas, allowing for better scientific assessments.
Improved data collection is needed not only to underpin the recovery of fish stocks and the upcoming ban on discarding fish at sea, but also to facilitate data requirements under existing environmental legislation such as the marine strategy framework directive.
However, the content of the agreement is not fully favourable to the support of sustainable fisheries in the longer term. There will be financial support for temporary cessation and engine replacement, albeit with some restrictions. These are both measures that will cause a slowdown of the process of returning European fish stocks to sustainable levels and improving the economic viability of European fleets.
Additionally, during the follow up meeting to look at technical developments, the council managed to weaken the initial outcome by limiting the European commission's entitlement to withhold funds from member states in case of non-compliance with the rules of the CFP.
Over the past months, seas at risk and other European NGOs have emphasised that the funding of EU fleets has to underpin the agreement on the CFP basic regulation reached earlier last year, in order to ensure coherence and to guarantee that tax payers' money is well spent.
We strongly argued against subsidies that contribute to maintaining an oversized fleet, such as funds for new builds which fortunately was rejected, advocating an increased budget to underpin fisheries management like funds for data collection, control and enforcement.
Whether the final deal includes a requirement to make funding for fleets, vessels and gears conditional upon adequate assessment of fishing capacity in relation to available fishing opportunities is not clear yet, but this would obviously also contribute to ensuring subsidies are not perversely used to increase or maintain current overcapacity.
The next step before the agreement enters into force is the vote by the European parliament and member states, who according to the EMFF regulations, can decide which parts of the agreement they want to adopt at national level.
Then it will be up to the member states to see how far they are ready to go and commit themselves to implementing the CFP and to ending overfishing.