FishSubsidy.org: Stop Spending in the Dark

  • May 13, 2011

Subsidies paid to owners of fishing vessels and others working in the fishing industry under the European Union's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) amount to more than €1 billion a year. Scientists, decision makers and nongovernmental organisations have repeatedly stated that several of these subsidies have not contributed to the objectives of the CFP, but rather have aggravated overfishing in EU waters and beyond. However, there is little information available about how specifically the public aid was used.

FishSubsidy.org, launched in July 2009, by EU Transparency and the Pew Environment Group, aims to obtain detailed data relating to payments and recipients of fisheries subsidies in all EU member States and to make these data available in a way that is useful to residents of Europe. This is done by filing access to information requests, sorting and tidying the data and making it available on a searchable website (www.FishSubsidy.org). In addition, FishSubsidy.org does preliminary research of the data sets, disseminates findings and advocates for more transparency in EU funding.

Markus Knigge, policy and research director for the Pew Environment Group's EU Marine Programme, talks about the need for transparency and access to data to evaluate current spending and thus affect reform of the European CFP.

What is FishSubsidy.org?

The aim of FishSubsidy.org is to obtain detailed data relating to payments and recipients of payments under the EU's CFP and make these data available in a way that is useful to residents of Europe. FishSubsidy.org is run by a network of European journalists, researchers, activists and the Pew Environment Group's European Marine Programme.

Why are you doing this?

Subsidy payments to the fisheries sector under the CFP and EU member State policies amounted to approximately €6 billion from 2000 to 2006. We believe that those who pay for this policy have a right to know where the money goes.

Where are the data from?

The data come from the European Commission, which compiled it from data submitted by EU national governments that administer the CFP.

Are the data reliable?

The data presented on the website have been obtained from the European Commission. In several cases, there were discrepancies, inaccuracies and outright mistakes in the data. Ultimately, the information available on the site is only as good as the data received from the Commission. Despite the errors uncovered, the data are reasonably reliable.

Who gets the subsidies and why?

Subsidies can be paid to owners of fishing vessels and to public bodies and private enterprises responsible for running fishing ports. In EU member States, the funds are concentrated in Spain, which receives approximately half of them. Although some EU vessels attract large subsidies, most do not get any payments. Subsidies have been paid for construction of new vessels, modernisation and scrapping. In addition to subsidy payments, many fishing vessels benefit from tax breaks that reduce the price of diesel. Unfortunately, FishSubsidy.org does not track fuel subsidies. Public funds are also paid to improve infrastructure, modernise processing facilities, invest in fish farming and promote more environmentally sustainable fishing.

Why do you list only the names of vessels? What about the individuals and companies that actually receive the money?

We would love to publish the names of vessel owners (individuals or companies) and would also like to list the names of those companies and organisations that receive non-vessels subsidies. Unfortunately, the European Commission has withheld this information. Since 2007, a new law in the EU on budget transparency requires the publication of the end beneficiary, and we will begin to publish this information as soon as we obtain it.

Haven't many of these types of subsidies been phased out? Isn't all this a thing of the past?

This website can publish details only of money that has already been spent and covers the period from 1994 to 2007. Subsidies for the construction of new fishing vessels were phased out at the end of 2006. However, it is still possible for EU vessels to receive subsidies for their modernisation, further fueling overcapacity and the overfishing of already depleted fish stocks.

As data on fish subsidies are released by EU member States, the information will be uploaded on the site. For the period 2007 to 2013, the EU is set to spend €4.3 billion on the subsidies to the fisheries sector (approximately €837 million per year). Unlike the data for 1994 to 2006, which was released by the European Commission in a single data set, the data from 2007 onwards are published individually by each EU member State or by regional authorities. That means sifting through incomplete, multilingual reports in non-standardised formats.

Do the data published on FishSubsidy.org give a complete picture of all subsidies to the EU fishing industry?

No. The EU also pays approximately €156 million a year to secure access to fisheries for EU vessels in countries such as Morocco, Gabon and Mozambique. All diesel used by EU fishing vessels is exempt from fuel taxes. In addition, national governments may provide their own subsidies to their fisheries sectors.

Do you have information on subsidies to vessels convicted of breaking the law?

The site includes a list of vessels that are known to have been convicted of serious infringements. This is a very partial list based on press reports and court records, and relates only to Spain, France and the UK. It is far from being definitive.

What is Pew doing to reform EU fisheries subsidies spending?

In the EU, Pew initiated and is coordinating the OCEAN2012 coalition, which is an alliance of more than 120 organisations dedicated to transforming European fisheries policy to stop overfishing, end destructive fishing practicies and deliver fair and equitable use of healthy fish stocks.

Pew and its partners work with OCEAN2012 to ensure that the reformed CFP will:

  • Stop aid that contributes to maintaining or increasing overcapacity, in particular all aid for the modernisation of vessels.
  • Stop public aid for access to fish resources.
  • Use money towards the creation of public goods, such as research, improved control and enforcement, and cooperation between fishers and scientists, as well as greater stakeholder involvement.
  • Make information on fisheries subsidies transparent and accessible.

Learn more about the International Marine Conservation Congress. 

Media Contact: Mike Walker

Topics: Oceans, Environment