EU fisheries ministers meeting on Tuesday (25 September) will debate the sensitive subject of temporary cessation payments – funds given through the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) to ships that are sitting idle in ports.
The payments can be awarded for a variety of reasons, for instance because of insufficient fish at a specific time or because the ship is in port being modernised. The European Commission has proposed scrapping this funding as part of its reform of fisheries policy.
Eight member states, including France, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Poland, have written to the Cypriot presidency and fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki insisting that the funds should not be scrapped. Vessel modernisation will “help to reduce the environmental impact of fishing activities”, they wrote. Member states wishing to modify fishing fleets should be able to grant aid to ships that stay in port, they said.
Campaign group Oceana opposes such funds. “It has not been effective, it doesn't tackle the problem,” said the group's policy officer, Vanya Vulperhorst. “Economically inefficient fleets just remain in port, because they get the money anyway.”
Germany and the UK have indicated in the past that they support the Commission's proposal. It is unclear whether there is a qualified majority to overturn it. The Cypriot presidency is aiming for a partial agreement on the EMFF reform next month. The European Parliament's fisheries committee will vote on it in November, when they may also vote on reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) as a whole.
Last week, in a non-binding vote on CFP reform, centre-right MEPs passed an amendment rejecting the Commission's proposal to rebuild depleted fish stocks by ensuring they remain above maximum sustainable yield (MSY). Greek MEP Nikolaos Salavrakos, who proposed the amendment, said the proposal would be an economic hardship for fishermen.
British liberal MEP Chris Davies, secretary of the cross-party ‘Fish for the Future' group, said he was concerned the vote would set a precedent for the fisheries committee's binding vote in November. “The fear is that the CFP rapporteur will now seek a weak compromise rather than risk the defeat of her proposals,” he said.
At next week's meeting, fisheries ministers will be briefed by the Commission on the proposed fishing agreement with Mauritania and the food price rises caused by drought in the United States.
Yesterday (19 September), the Parliament's fisheries committee voted to support the Commission's proposal to close a loophole in the EU's ban on shark-finning.
The practice of cutting off a shark's fin and discarding the body at sea has theoretically been prohibited in the EU since 2003, but an exemption allows member states to issue special permits for fishing vessels to remove shark fins on board if the bodies are kept. This has, however, been difficult to enforce. The Commission's proposal would require all fins still to be connected to the body of the shark when the boat lands at port.
Agriculture ministers will also meet next week (24 September). They will continue discussing reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, focusing on support for rural development and common organisation of the markets in agricultural products.
On Wednesday the European Parliament's environment committee voted to maintain the greening aspects of the Commission's proposal for reform. But the agriculture committee is expected to take a more sceptical stance when it votes later this year.