Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

The European Council, yesterday (April 14), agreed a position on the Commission’s recent proposal (April 2) to help address the negative impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the fisheries and aquaculture sectors via amendments to the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) and the regulation on the Common Market Organisation (CMO).

Marija Vučković, the agriculture minister of Croatia, which holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council until July said, “We have to ensure that the current crisis does not cause irreparable damage to communities where fishery and aquaculture are the main economic activities.

“The proposal endorsed today will provide financial support to EU fishermen and aquaculture farmers to help them overcome the economic challenges caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.”

The Commission’s latest proposal introduces the following specific measures:

  • support in relation to the temporary cessation of fishing activities with a maximum co-financing rate of 75 % of eligible public expenditure
  • support in relation to the temporary suspension or reduction of aquaculture production and sales
  • support to producer organisations and associations of producer organisations for the storage of fishery and aquaculture products
  • increasing the quantities eligible for storage aid to 25% of the annual quantities of the products concerned

The Council’s agreed position adds the following amendments to the proposal:

  • inclusion of fishermen on foot (mostly women) as eligible for support in case of temporary cessation
  • derogation for temporary cessation for new vessels
  • flexibility in order to use 10% of the budgetary funds allocated to Union Priority 3
  • granting working capital and compensating the reduction of sales and additional storage costs for aquaculture farmers

The specific EMFF measures in the proposal are complemented by an amendment to the CMO regulation which makes possible the resort to the storage mechanism if Member States have not set and published trigger prices, and allows aquaculture producer organisations to benefit from the storage mechanism.

The proposal also provides for expenditure for the operations supported under these measures to be eligible as of February 1, 2020.

The presidency of the Council will now inform the European Parliament that should it adopt its position in the form set out in the text agreed by the Council, the Council will approve the European Parliament’s position and the act shall be adopted in the wording which corresponds to the European Parliament’s position.

The presidency will also ask the European Parliament to use the urgent procedure, to ensure swift adoption.

Whether the proposal and amendments will be enough, however, to ensure the sector can weather the impacts of the coronavirus storm remains uncertain. Sentiments from the sector, both capture and culture, indicate more measures will be required to adequately address the challenges faced now by fishermen, women and aquaculture producers,

Following the Commission’s announcement of its latest round of proposals, for example, the Killybegs Fisheries Organisation (KFO) cautioned that while the latest measures proposed by the Commission were welcome, additional financial supports were needed to complement these measures.

The European Association of Fish Producers Organisations (EAPO), of which both the KFO and Irish South and West Fish Producers’ Organisation (ISWFPO) are members, and Europêche cautiously welcomed the proposal “as a first measure”. However, additional funding beyond the use of existing EMFF funds was needed, they said.

Concerning aquaculture producers, a joint statement from the European Molluscs Producers Association (EMPA) and the Federation of European Aquaculture Producers (FEAP)—both of which IFA Aquaculture is a member—said the new measures from the Commission had failed to take account of the specificity of European aquaculture.

Representatives of the sector had consequently called for further amendment of the text of the EMFF Regulation, to allow producers to be compensated for a loss of income rather than simply for cessation or reduction in production, as per the Commission’s proposal, while also calling for an expansion of the entities entitled to storage aid, beyond POs.