Commission issues statement on the emergency in the sector

Responding to the grave difficulties currently faced by the European fisheries sector as a result of massively increased fuel costs, Fisheries Commissioner Joe Borg has renewed his call for the restructuring of the sector before it is too late. The difficulties faced by the EU fisheries sector have their roots in a structural mismatch between the size of the fleet and the sustainable level of fishing possibilities. These problems have been seriously compounded by the sharp increase of fuel prices over the past few years. Marine Fuel Prices have gone beyond 0.7€/l in most European harbours, an increase of around 240% since 2004.

The Commission has been following these trends very closely, and already in 2006 made an analysis of the difficulties facing the fisheries sector. In March of that year it adopted a Communication on "improving the economic situation in the fishing industry" which laid down measures that could be taken by Member States to help their fishing sectors adapt to the higher fuel prices.

However, the Commission has encouraged the Member States to adopt rescue and restructuring plans in order to help the adjustment of the segments of their fishing fleets particularly affected by the increase in oil prices, while addressing at the same time the structural causes of the difficulties – fleet overcapacity and fuel-inefficient equipment and practices.

Rescue aid, which should be limited to the minimum necessary, should be seen as a short-term aid to keep an ailing enterprise financially afloat for the time necessary to work out a restructuring or liquidation plan. Such rescue aid, which may last no more than six months, must take the form of a reimbursable loan or guarantee. However, where the rescue aid is followed by an approved restructuring plan, the rescue aid can be repaid with support received by the firm in the form of restructuring aid.

Further restructuring of fishing enterprises to restore economic viability will often imply investment to adapt fishing vessels. General rules on aid for such investment are set out in the relevant EU guidelines on State aid EU aid from the European Fisheries Fund (EFF) can also be mobilised to that effect, under the same conditions.

National aid for certain types of modernisation and equipment of vessels that is not normally allowed under the above conditions could also be considered if it is aimed at restructuring fishing enterprises as part of rescue and restructuring schemes authorised by the Commission. Upon notification of these schemes by Member States, the Commission will assess them on the basis of the relevant EU guidelines on State aid.

Provided that the rescue and restructuring plans are based on realistic assumptions and address the structural deficiencies of the fleets concerned by restoring a better match between capacity and fishing possibilities, they could in particular include support measures such as:

  • Short term rescue aid to be reimbursed when the restructuring measures are implemented.
  • A one-off change in fishing gear resulting in a less fuel-intensive fishing method.
  • Purchase of equipment to improve fuel efficiency.
  • One-off replacement of the engines under certain conditions.