European Fisheries Fund Sustainability Criteria

European Fisheries Fund Sustainability Criteria

Member States’ use of social and environmental criteria in allocating European Fisheries Funds

This report was prepared by Ecologic Institute for the Pew Environment Group, the conservation arm of the Pew Charitable Trusts.

The European Union’s fisheries are in crisis: overfishing is rampant and the Common Fisheries Policy is failing in its objective of managing fish stocks sustainably. The European Commission has outlined how more than 72 percent of assessed European Union (EU) fish stocks are overfished and 22 percent are outside safe biological limits(1). 

The European Fisheries Fund (EFF, 2007–2013) provides financial support to activities that are supposed to further the Common Fisheries Policy’s objectives of creating an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable fisheries sector in the EU. However, European fisheries subsidies are maintaining, and possibly even increasing, fishing overcapacity, which is a driver of overfishing. 

This is exacerbated by many EU Member States’ failure to implement their legal requirement to assess the balance between fishing capacity and available resources. Fisheries subsidies are therefore support existing fishing overcapacity, thereby contributing to the crisis within the EU fishing sector, rather than helping to set it on a more sustainable path. 

This study investigates the extent to which environmental and social considerations are made in the allocation of EFF funding. It looks at the EFF funding application forms in Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Spain and the United Kingdom. Together, these Member States represent more than one-half of the EU fishing sector in terms of number of vessels fleet and catches. They receive 65 percent (€2,933,748,000) of the total EFF funding and 76 percent (€920,764,000) of the EFF funding for Axis 1, which is dedicated to fleet measures(2). 

The study finds that in most cases the information requested does not enable managing authorities to make informed decisions on the likely environmental and social impacts of any given project. This seems to be illogical as these authorities are supposedly allocating funding in order ensure the sustainability of the fishing sector. However, it might well be that they consider other information not covered by the application and therefore beyond the scope of this study. 

While many of the application forms hint at social and environmental and social aspects, no single application form does it through consistent and direct questions. The majority of application forms do not request information on the stocks targeted. This is highly problematic as the majority of EU fish stocks are overfished. Several forms do not contain specific questions on bycatch or discards or about the geographical area where the fishing activity is carried out. Most application forms allow the managing authorities to assess whether the applicant operates a small, medium or large scale enterprise. Most forms do request evidence of compliance with the rules of the CFP, or whether the funding will benefit minority groups(3). 

In the instances the application requested social and environmental information it was often not of a substantive nature. In contrast, a number of application forms included detailed requests that could serve as best practices; e.g. specific questions on landings in the year prior to the modernisation and forecast of landings and sales for the year after the project’s completion; impacts of the project on ecosystems; minority groups; and questions about compliance with environmental legislation. These can be found in the results section. The study concludes that a best practice guide would be a useful tool for Member States to allow for more informed funding decisions. Such a guide could be assembled by the European Commission. Ultimately decision makers should phase out funding measures that are counter to the objectives of the CFP. 


(1) Communication from the Commission – Consultation on Fishing Opportunities for 2011. COM/2010/0241 final. 

(2) See Annex 1. Table 4: Overview of EFF contributions and core fisheries data per Member State. 

(3) This can include any or all of the following: disability, race, religion, sexual orientation and age. 

Related report

Downloads Full Report
Downloads Full Report