On July 6th, 2021, the European Parliament gave its final approval on the next European Maritime Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF). The EMFAF decides how a total of 6.1 billion euros is spent on activities at sea between 2021 – 2027. These funds can be used for all activities related to the ocean, from enhancing the capacity of fishing vessels, to carrying out research. Countless studies and reports show that the vast majority of previous funds were used to encourage overfishing and fuel the demise of nature at sea . And it looks like the new EMFAF will continue down the same path.
The MEP’s voted to invest in overfishing and to re-introduce subsidies they phased out 15 years ago because of the detrimental impacts they were already proven to have had on the environment. Now they will again. With obvious disregard for the state of our oceans, MEPs voted to subsidise fishers even when they overfish stocks, and as a result must stop fishing, and also to subsidise building and modernising fishing vessels. Currently 69% of EU fishing stocks are already overfished.  This contradicts the EU position in the World Trade Organization (WTO), where, ignoring a look in the mirror, it tells other governments around the world not to subsidise their fishing fleets.
As a token for the environment, it voted to ringfence 25% of the EMFF to protect and restore the marine environment. Ironically, this money can still be used to kill birds, dolphins, seals and other wildlife protected under EU law when these are thought to be a nuisance to fishers.
“Harmful subsidies”, account for over 60% of global fisheries subsidies, or around €20 billion every year . They include any subsidy that reduces the operational costs of the fishing sector such as building new vessels, funding engine replacement or increasing the efficiency of fishing gear. Some subsidies are also provided to fishing companies and vessels that engage in detrimental practices such as the destruction of marine life, may involve slave labour, or that catch large proportions of fish not intended for sale or non-fish species such as seabirds, dolphins and turtles.
The new EMFAF will not only continue to hand out harmful subsidies, except for the explicit construction of new fishing vessels, it also weakens the conditions under which new harmful fisheries subsidies are granted.
This EMFAF now goes directly against WTO commitments calling for the elimination of all harmful fisheries subsidies. It also goes against the EU’s goal for a more sustainable, low-impact fisheries sector and levelling the playing field for the small-scale fishing fleet. EU countries must now submit national plans on how they will spend their share of the EMFAF, and the Commission must give their approval. BirdLife calls on the Commission to under no circumstances approve national plans that do not propose effective measures to reduce the impact of fisheries on biodiversity, and that the Commission will not shy away from sanctioning Member States that use EU funds to finance overfishing.
“With the new EMFAF, the EU is quite literally adding fuel to the ecocide happening in our seas. Europeans already know that our oceans are degraded and every day they commit to more actions to save marine life. For those citizens, to see elected politicians vote to use their tax monies to continue killing our oceans is a direct slap in the face. This vote shows that the Members of the EU Parliament are more interested in fighting on behalf of the fishing industry, instead of listening to the people who elected them.” – Anouk Puymartin, EU Marine Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe.
 Selection of studies and reports on the EMFAF encouraging and funding overfishing:
- Skerritt, Daniel J., et al. “A 20-year retrospective on the provision of fisheries subsidies in the European Union.” ICES Journal of Marine Science (2020)
- European Court of Auditors Special Report 26/2020: Marine environment: EU protection is wide but not deep
- BIOM/BirdLife Croatia report, 2020: The use of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund in Croatia in relation to the protection of the marine environment and its resources
- LPO/BirdLife France report 2020: Environmental impact of the use of European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) in France
- SEO/BirdLife Spain report, 2020: The use of the EMFF in Spain between 2014 – 2018
 Will the EU doom our ocean and fishers? Breaking down harmful subsidies in the EMFAF by BirdLife Europe, BLOOM, WWF Europe, ClientEarth, Seas at Risk and Low Impact Fishers of Europe.
 69% of of EU fishing stocks are already overfished – Froese et al. (2018) Status and rebuilding of European fisheries. Marine Policy, 93: 159-1
For more information, please contact:
Bruna Campos, EU Marine and Fisheries Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe
+32 478 88 64 20
Anouk Puymartin, EU Marine Policy Officer, BirdLife Europe
+32 491 18 51 09
Honey Kohan, Communication Manager, BirdLife Europe
+32 483 55 95 43
BirdLife Europe and Central Asia is a partnership of 43 national conservation organisations and a leader in bird conservation. Our unique local to global approach enables us to deliver high impact and long-term conservation for the benefit of nature and people. BirdLife Europe and Central Asia is one of the six regional secretariats that compose BirdLife International. Based in Brussels, it supports the European and Central Asian Partnership and is present in 43 countries including all EU Member States. With more than 4100 staff in Europe, two million members and tens of thousands of skilled volunteers, BirdLife Europe and Central Asia, together with its national partners, owns or manages more than 6000 nature sites totalling 320,000 hectares.