EU fleets fishing in waters of developing countries reap profits subsidized with taxpayers’ money

A new study in the online journal PLOS ONE, suggests that EU fishing companies that fish in waters belonging to developing countries reap profits heavily subsidized by taxpayers under agreements that disadvantage the countries the waters belong to.

For several decades, because of the need to increase supply of seafood without overfishing local stocks, the European Union and its Member States have been fishing in the Exclusive Economic Zones of other countries, such as in Africa and the South Pacific, under the auspices of various types of fishing agreements.

The researchers note that although these agreements are frequently discussed and commented on, and considered to be transparent, theirs is the first global and historical study to examine the fee regime that governs them.

Fishing companies receive a lot and pay very little

Their analysis finds that EU governments (in other words EU taxpayers) pay 75% of the annual fee to access the foreign waters. The fees range from 300,000 Euros ($407,500) paid to Equatorial Guinea, to 175 million Euros ($238m) paid to Morocco.

Meanwhile, the fishing companies themselves only pay 1.5% of the revenue generated from selling the catch.

Lead author Frédéric Le Manach, a doctoral student working in the Sea Around Us Project at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, Canada, says as well as access fees, the EU government subsidies usually cover the cost of fuel and equipment. He comments:

“The EU’s fishing companies are benefiting from these agreements far more than the developing countries where they go to fish.”

The authors suggest this raises questions about “benefit-sharing and resource-use equity,” and the EU should perhaps address them before it finishes reforming its Common Fisheries Policy.

Previous studies have linked subsidies to overfishing and overcapacity, notes Mr. Le Manach, explaining that:

“Since the companies aren’t paying the full cost of doing business, they make more profit and in turn invest in bigger and more efficient boats, which enable them to further exploit developing countries’ fish stocks.”

Co-author Daniel Pauly, a UBC professor and principal investigator of the Sea Around Us Project, says:

“The EU has the potential to lead the world in sustainable fisheries.”

“But as they stand now, these access agreements are being subsidized in ways that disadvantage developing countries and contradict the EU’s own development goals by forcing their citizens to essentially pay twice for the fish they’re taking off of the plates of developing countries.”