Lawmakers of the majority groups in the European Parliament lambasted EU fisheries Commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius for prioritising environmental protection to the detriment of the economic and social sustainability of the fisheries sector.
Speaking during a debate at the European Parliament’s fisheries committee (PECH) on Thursday (1 December), Commissioner Sinkevičius was swamped by criticism from MEPs asking him to do more to support fishing communities in these difficult times.
Sinkevičius, who also has the competencies for the environment, presented to the Parliament the state of play of the Commission’s latest initiatives to support the sector’s energy transition, which were previously anticipated to EU ministers last week.
He also announced that the much-awaited review of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), as well as the marine action plan, will be unveiled by the Commission on January 2023.
The Lithuanian Commissioner acknowledged that “many fishers are now literally pushed against a wall” while stressing that “if we completely ruin the environment, there will be no fisheries, no agriculture, no forestry and probably no economy because 50% of our economy is dependent on the environment.”
But his words did not completely convince liberal and centre-right lawmakers, who continued to argue he is more dedicated to his portfolio’s environmental aspects rather than fisheries.
“Your initiatives, communications and proposals are always looking at protecting the environment but to the detriment of the fishery and the aquaculture sector,” Gabriel Mato, coordinator at the PECH committee for the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP).
For Mato’s socialist counterpart, the Spanish MEP Clara Aguilera, it is not about being one or the other but about going hand in hand with the sector.
“I think it is necessary to explain that neither green, digital, nor any transition can be made without taking the sectors on board,” she said. “Do you think that the Commission’s procedures are understood and accepted by the fishing sector? I don’t think so,” she continued.
On the other hand, French green MEP Caroline Roose welcomed the “high levels of environmental ambition” put forward by the Commission lately, expressing, however, concern over the executive’s plan to delay the marine action plan to 2023 – which was originally planned for 2021.
MEPs from majority groups also called on the Commissioner to ‘come closer’ to the fishing communities, who ‘don’t feel he’s on their side’.
“I never hide from the meetings with you [MEPs], and I will never hide from the meetings with the sector,” Sinkevičius replied.
Environmental goals vs socio-economic impacts
The EU executive is expected to table a plan to accelerate the ecological transition of the bloc’s fisheries and decarbonise the sector as it deals with the current energy crisis.
Though the sector benefited from the swift, rapid release of state aid and the European Maritime Affairs, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF) to fend off fuel price increases, Sinkevičius believes the solution lies in remedying the sector’s dependence on fossil fuels.
“The dependency on the current use of oils is what is the biggest issue today,” he told MEPs.
However, lawmakers grilled the Commissioner on the socio-economic impacts of the Commission’s plans during big part of the discussion.
Some MEPs brought to the table the example of the EU fisheries partnership with Senegal, first signed in 1979. The agreement allows EU vessels to catch tuna and black hake from delimited fishing zones along the Senegalese coast.
However, the Senegalese government recently adopted a restrictive interpretation that could prevent European vessels to fish in these areas despite fulfilling high standards for sustainable fishing.
According to European lawmakers, fishers affected by the breaches in the agreement provoked by Senegal should be supported with EU subsidies.
“If the EU has an agreement with Senegal and the Senegalese government is negligent, but we cannot subsidise these affected ships, the situation is for scrapping,” said socialist Aguilera.
Sinkevičius explained that despite the efforts deployed by the Commission and EU delegation in Senegal, the government of the African country is still delaying the issuance of fishing authorisations.
He added that he would do what’s in his power “to ensure that our fishery sector’s interests are defended abroad” while stressing that “the Commission has a zero tolerance approach to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU).
[Edited by Gerardo Fortuna/Alice Taylor]
Source: Eura Ctiv