Leading Journal of the Irish & UK Fishing Industries

Despite the corona crisis hitting seafood markets hard, European fishing groups Europêche and the European Association of Fish Producer Organisations (EAPO) say they are committed to maintaining a supply of seafood for EU consumers during the crisis.

The fishing groups state, however, that “as one of the essential sectors of the European food supply chain it is crucial that governments—be it national or European—devise and take measures that allow, or better, encourage fishermen to continue with their fishing activities and supply European consumers with seafood.”

Highlighting some of the existing and expected effects of the crisis on fishing from various disruptions to operational activity to the collapse in first-sale prices and of markets entirely, the EAPO and Europêche say the socio-economic consequences facing the industry are twofold:

  1.  Trade and value chain disruptions as well as evaporating market demand resulting in falling price levels.
  2. Temporary cessation of fishing operations.

Along with the Commission’s recently proposed Coronavirus Response Investment Initiative, which has been welcomed by the fishing bodies, a number of required measures have been identified by the sector “to effectively tackle the already severe problems that are expected to exacerbate and spread further across the Union as the COVID-19 deepens its presence in our societies”.

In this regard, the requests made by Europêche and the EAPO include:

  • Giving fishermen the option to carry over more than the existing 10% of their fishing quotas to next year – as defined under the Flexibility Regulation or art 15(9) of the Basic Regulation and as has been implemented in previous circumstances.
  • Establishing minimum price mechanisms through POs, in which the State helps finance these activities, ensuring that intervention prices are fair prices, that would cover the operational expenses.
  • Guaranteeing through state emergency plans that logistic services can distribute seafood products at fair prices both to producer and consumer.
  • Adopting a set of measures that guarantee the logistical need of crews and vessels in terms of transport of fish, transport of crews, transport of gear and supplies needed to continue the activity and so on, adjusting also required health protocols as needed.

Alongside these, the sector urges the Commission to perform the necessary legislative changes and adjust national operational EMFF programmes through high-speed procedures:

  • To include the possibility for EU fishermen and operators to receive allowances and compensation under the current EMFF for the temporary cessation of their activities under the events described in temporary cessation, for direct (affected and quarantine) and indirect (trade and marketing of the product) reasons related to health crisis such as the coronavirus one.
  • To allow for the preparation and implementation of revised marketing plans with increased expenditure support.
  • To extend the possibility of support for storage under the specific circumstances of the application of contingency measures for coronavirus.
  • To temporarily uncap the “de minimis” aid (i.e. remove the limit of EUR 30.000 per company over a period of three fiscal years) in order to be able to adapt the financial aid to the businesses situation.
  • Article 4.1. of the Guidelines for the examination of State aid to the fishery and aquaculture sector (2015/C 217/01) establishes the possibility to compensate the damage caused by exceptional occurrences. The industry requests the option to provide this financial aid through the EMFF and therefore a legislative modification of the latter fund is required.
  • To reprogram the national operational plans to reallocate and transfer unused funding between priorities so it can be destined to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus where needed as well as increase the ceilings involved in the Regulation as necessary.
  • Given the situation of state aid to the industry, it should be taken into account that if new measures or changes are set under other Funds to compensate the agri-food industry, these should be reflected in parallel in the fisheries and aquaculture state aid regulations.

Welcoming the announcement made by President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday 13th March, that the EU will launch a €37 billion investment initiative as part of a package of measures to cushion the bloc’s economies from the impact of coronavirus, the seafood sector, they say, will have to be taken into account and supported through this investment initiative.

Alongside EU level measures, EAPO and Europêche call on Member States to introduce national measures such as VAT reduction and tax exemptions or deferrals.

With respect Brexit, in light of current developments, the fishing bodies say “it seems only logical to aim at extending the Brexit transition period with another 12 months at least, although we realise that also the UK has to agree with such decision.”

The European fishing bodies conclude by calling for a temporary pause in current legislative and regulatory processes, as all efforts, they say, must focus on the crisis at hand.


Image: Neptune and Paula in Killybegs by Aodan Griffin