Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

MEPs have today, April 17, endorsed enhanced support measures for fishermen and aquaculture producers severely affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

Part of the Commission’s proposed Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative Plus proposed on April 2 and involving amendments to the rules of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), the measures allow for support for the temporary cessation of fishing activities due to coronavirus.

The measures also allow for financial compensation to aquaculture farmers and processing enterprises, and support to producer organisations for the storage of fishery and aquaculture products.

Additional amendments to the EMFF Regulation allow also for more flexible reallocation of financial resources within the operational programmes of each Member State and a simplified procedure for amending operational programmes with respect to the introduction of the new measures.

Following swift, unprecedented cooperation between the Parliament’s Fisheries Committee and the Presidency of the Council, which led to an informal agreement during the Easter weekend, according to the Parliament, significant improvements have been made to the Commission’s original proposal.

These changes will allow support to be given to fishermen and women who have just started their activity and those who operate on foot (i.e. those fishing without a boat).

They also allow provisions for outermost regions to be adapted to deal with the consequences of the crisis, as well as countries that have exhausted all allocated funding to not be penalised, through budgetary flexibility.

Following the final plenary vote, Fisheries Committee Chair, Pierre Karleskind (Renew Europe, FR) said: “This special, interinstitutional cooperation shows how committed the EU is to addressing the consequences of the pandemic on the fisheries sector.

“The EU can really be present for its citizens when it channels its available resources towards supporting them.”

The European Commission has welcomed the quick adoption by the European Parliament, with the Council following very soon, of its initiative to modify the EMFF to mitigate some of the impacts of coronavirus on the fisheries and aquaculture sectors.

Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said: “In these extraordinary times, our citizens count on our help, now more than ever. The market disruption caused by this crisis has hit European fisheries and aquaculture sectors particularly hard.

“Jobs, communities and food security are at stake. This is why it was important for us to act together, swiftly and effectively, and help our fisheries sector.”

Operations supported under the temporary coronavirus-related measures will be retroactively eligible as of 1 February 2020 until 31 December 2020.

What this means is that Member States can already start selecting and supporting these operations – it is up to individual Member States to come up with specific support packages for their sectors, drawing on these flexibilities.

In this regard, Green Party MEP for Ireland South Grace O’Sullivan, Ireland’s only sitting member on the European Parliament’s PECHE Committee, yesterday (April 16) urged the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed to take immediate action to implement the newly developed European funding package for hard-hit Irish fishing sectors, capture and culture.

In a statement, the MEP said: “I’ve written to Minister Creed today to urge him to roll out this assistance to one of our hardest hit sectors as quickly as possible.

“Fishing sectors have been suffering from the effects of COVID-19 since the closure of Chinese and other import markets since January. I’m sure he realises the urgent situation Irish fishing sectors are facing. Parts of the industry are on their knees.”

Ahead of a vote on the Commission’s package in the European Parliament yesterday (April 16), the Ireland South MEP said: “On Thursday we vote on a legislative proposal around immediate relief for hard-hit European fishing communities.

“Europe is being proactive in opening channels of funding and support, but on the ground in Ireland, the ball is in the Minister’s court to access that funding.

“Not only must he demand a fair share of the funding, but he must distribute it throughout the country and not focus it in one or two geographical areas.”

Image: Kieran Healy