EU Required to Stop One Million Euros in Fishing Subs

By Finnigan wa Simbeye

The Perspective
Paris, France

Posted May 21, 2002

EUROPEAN Union (EU) members have been urged to scrap off over one million Euros (over Tshs 800m) in subsidies paid to its fishing industry under the controversial Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) which is accused of violating international law by engaging in deep water fishing in Africa's ocean territory.

World Wildlife Fund (WWF) International (Switzerland)'s Director General Dr. Claude Martin said recently, during a session on 'Policy Coherence-The Development Dimension of Agriculture Trade' at Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Forum 2002, that the EU fisheries subsidy is not only affecting African fishermen’s access to markets but also involves illegal fishing into African deep sea waters.

"We have done enough studies on this and the EU needs to stop it if trade is to eradicate poverty in the continent," Dr. Martin charged.

He expressed concern on the extent of violation of international conventions on sustainable development by the developed world whose greed in exploiting resources worldwide is threatening the future of mankind.

The EU and leading OECD countries including the United States, Japan and Russia are accused of illegally fishing in territorial ocean waters in Africa, Pacific and Caribbean region and Atlantic.

A report released by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) last March revealed that fish stocks on Africa’s West coast have declined by more than 50%, while some species are extinct due to over-fishing by Europe’s heavily subsidised commercial fleets.

In Mauritania, catches of octopus fell by at least 50% in the last four years while local people employed in the traditional octopus fishery have been reduced from 5,000 in 1996 to 1,800 in 2002, the report stated. The EU had an agreement with Mauritania and Senegal to do commercial fishing on the two countries’ coastlines amid reports by environmentalists that up to 90% of bycatches and discards, mostly small fish, are dumped overboard annually while local communities suffer from malnutrition.

A preliminary study of Mauritania, where the EU, Japan and Chinese boats have access to fishing grounds, has revealed that species such as saw fish have disappeared, the UNEP report revealed. Some 251 industrial, factory-style, foreign vessels are said to be operating in the West African coast country which renewed an agreement with the EU at a rate of $480m for a period of 2001 to 2006.

Dr. Martin and WWF International have since teamed up with other international environmental activist organisations including Green Peace International, Seas At Risk (SAR), Birdlife International, Coalition for Fair Fisheries Arrangements (CFFA), International Collective in Support of Fishworkers (ICSF) and National Fisheries Organisation (NFFO) to press for the scrapping of the EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP).

"We need legal and conventional panacea to these solutions that will involve public, private partnerships," he urged.

Spain which maintains the EU’s largest fleet and gets much in CFP subsidies, is said to be strongly against abolishing the policy as fears of proposed fleet and subsidy reduction by European Commission (EC) to curb over-fishing, send shivers of fear in Madrid forcing Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar to put pressure on the EC through Vice-President Loyola de Palacio to stop the move.

In a letter dated May 14, 2002 addressed to Commission President Romano Prodi, who is Italian and whose country is among the opponents of CFP reforms and copied to EC Commissioner for Agriculture Franz Fischler, WWF International and allies demand a quick decision on stalled CFP reforms as agreed earlier.

If the decline of fish stocks and the fishing industry are ever to be halted, firm changes in the Common Fisheries Policy are needed. Collectively, we fear that proposals by the Commission are currently being weakened, particularly on the issue of fleet subsidies, the letter reads in part.

Seconding Dr. Martin’s observation, Anne Fielder who is Director of Consumer International warned that with rich countries leading the way in violation of international conventions, the forthcoming Johannesburg Conference on Sustainable Development will just be another talking shop while powerful countries like the US abrogate signatures to international agreements and declare opposition.

President George W. Bush’s government has already withdrawn its signature to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol on Global Warming and declared that it won’t comply with it because Washington’s national energy interests are endangered by its provisions. The Protocol seeks to put limits on green gas emission blamed for global warming.

"There has been a lot of talking at international conferences, what we need now is action at international level from Johannesburg," she charged.

Fielder whose world wide consumer group boasts of having over 120 member countries said the most important goal to be realised in Johannesburg should be formation of a task force to supervise clearly defined global targets in line with sustainable development to be met in a specific period of time.

"It’s sad that after many years since Rio, nothing much has changed," she lamented.The 1992 Rio Declaration was named after Brazilian capital of Rio de Janeiro, which hosted the previous world conference on sustainable development. Among other things, the Rio Declaration seeks to promote and safeguard sustainable development based on national law provisions.

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