Fuelling the Threat for Sustainable Fisheries in Europe

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All European countries provide fuel subsidies to their fisheries sector in one form or another. Those subsidies consist mostly of fuel tax exemptions, but there are also some other state aid and support schemes that play a role in reducing fuel costs for the fishing industry. This report analyses fuel subsidies and the impact it has on fish stocks and the fisheries sector in the EU. It is well documented that by reducing operating costs and thus enhancing fishing effort, fuel subsidies are increasing the fishing pressure on the target species and related species (e.g. bycatch) and therefore contributing to the overexploitation of EU fisheries. This does not only cause further depletion of fish stocks but will also support economically unprofitable practices and undermine future economic benefits.

Fuel subsidies have increased the profitability of highly fuel-consuming fishing techniques like beam trawling. However, these fuel intensive techniques are having further impacts on biodiversity, the ecosystem structure and marine habitats. The impacts arise both directly through over-exploitation of stocks, physical damage toother aspects of the ecosystem, and indirectly through the increased carbon dioxideemissions contributing to climate change.

Moreover, the economic and social impacts highlight that differences in fuel subsidisation between countries may also create distortion in the competitiveness between national fleets. Fuel subsidies are commonly provided in the EU under various forms in addition to the tax exemptions. The amount varies by Member States which raises concerns also of internal market distortion. Often the subsidies are not transparent, raising concerns of conflicts with better regulation principles. Under the draft de minimis aid Regulation proposed by the European Commission, a fishing enterprise could receive significant and potentially harmful subsidies from Member State countries to finance operating costs without having to notify the payments to the European Commission. This aid opens the back door to further harmful fuel subsidies.