EU Parliament votes against funds for vessel construction seen as helping overfishing

BRUSSELS – The European Parliament has voted down proposals to subsidize the construction of more fishing vessels and has set caps on public spending on fleets in a move to contain overfishing.

The move was welcomed by environmental groups. European Union’s fisheries chief Maria Damanaki said that Wednesday’s vote will instead allow for “funding projects which promote a sustainable future for the fishing industry.”

The parliamentary vote centred on the 6.5 billion euros ($8.9 billion) in fisheries subsidies and how they should be spent during the 2014-2020 period. Campaigners have argued that building up and modernizing the EU fishing fleet with public funds would only add to the overfishing that depleted EU waters over the past decades.

The legislature, the 28 member states and Damanaki are seeking a full agreement before the end of the year.

Markus Knigge of the OCEAN2012 coalition said that instead funds will be used for “improved data collection, control and enforcement” of rules to protect vulnerable ground and keep the industry from overfishing.

“Today’s decision gives European fish stocks a real fighting chance,” said Tony Long, director of the WWF European Policy Office. “We have dodged a bullet as the proposal on the table would have made fish stock recovery measures agreed in the summer pointless.”

The overall fisheries package at the legislature meeting in Strasbourg, France, was approved by a show of hands.

For the second time in a year, parliament showed the way toward more sustainable fisheries. Earlier this year, the EU agreed on rules to compel the fishing industry to respect scientific advice on overfishing, to vastly reduce the amount of healthy fish thrown back into the sea, and to protect sensitive areas at sea.

Ideas that now look like no-brainers were unthinkable for years. In Wednesday’s debate, it was the public funding for new ships in an age where too many vessels were already chasing too few fish that stood out.

“To use public money to pay for building new boats would only make the problem worse,” said Chris Davies of the ALDE Liberal group in parliament.