The EU fleet is being badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Kilmore Quay – Oliver McBride

Europeche and the EAPO have called on EU Commissioner with responsibilities for Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevičius to re-examine the support package announced last week by the EU Commission.

Although the organisations have welcomed the announcement of the release of European Maritime and Fisheries Fund ((EMFF)) monies to help the EU fleet during the current COVID-19 crisis, they believe that more financial capital is needed to keep to aid the industry.

It has also called on the EU Commission to consider ‘augmented flex’ for banking up to 25% of the quota applicable to all commercial fish species during this coronavirus pandemic.

In the letter the group says “The European fishing sector is grateful for your and DG MARE’s efforts to finalise the proposal for a new set of measures under the European Maritime & Fisheries Fund (EMFF). We also appreciate your and your services responses to the communication from the fisheries organisations…

“While recognising the proposed measures are a positive step forward in dealing with COVID 19 crisis, are very concerned that they will not have the desired effect in the fishing industry unless they are accompanied by additional EU funding. 

“The operational programmes of the Member States are substantially evolved in their last year and the majority of the Member States lack the financial means to optimise the potential of these measures. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance to revisit the possibilities to inject additional funding to address the current crisis and to ensure the EU retains a vital, sustainable fishing industry supplying healthy food product to EU consumers now and in the future. 

“EAPO and Europêche are calling that this be addressed as a matter of urgency. The inclusion of a more flexible reallocation of financial resources within the operational programmes and a simplified procedure for amending operational programmes with respect to the introduction of the new measures are welcome but do not address the key issue of additional funding.

“The fishing industry is focussing on the continuity of the activities to secure seafood supply whilst experiencing, in many cases the socio-economic effects of the crisis impacted market situation. Therefore EAPO and Europêche kindly request to re-evaluate the possibility to provide a certain level of income support through the EMFF or other funds to compensate the loss of income faced by our companies due to the huge reduction of up to 50% of fish prices threatening their financial viability. 

“Finally, we would also appreciate to review with you and DG MARE the listing of Europêche-EAPO proposals and specific considerations…

“This measure has been implemented in 2014 and 2015 for pelagic species to tackle the very serious market disruptions at the time due to the Russian trade sanctions in combination with the crisis in the Nigerian market. The wider application of such ‘augmented flex’ for banking up to 25% of the quota applicable to all commercial fish species would be extremely important.”

Under country specific comments, the letters outlines to the EU Commission what each country’s fishing fleet is undergoing during the crisis:

Ireland: The demersal fleets particularly suffer from the market collapse in Italy, Spain and France. It
is estimated that on Monday 30 March, 80 to 90% of boats were moored in port and not fishing. This
number is now closer to 40 to 50%. Fisheries for brown crab, lobster, nephrops are particularly
affected and issues with storage availability are about to occur.

The pelagic fleet is fishing normally but cold storage space and a lack of containers remains an issue.
Besides, raw material stock is only temporarily available at cold store for up to three months for e.g.
major frozen whitefish species. Some processing units have been closed due to workers worries about
health in these working conditions. A 25% banking possibility is a much-needed measure.

UK: The market situation is similar to the one on the continent. Scotland has prepared a scheme to
limit effort for the demersal fisheries to 18 days at sea/vessel in April. DEFRA is discussing
compensation. The impact seemed to have been more limited in the South.
Numerous processors are closed.

Sweden: Low prices and demand have forced some fishing vessels to stay in port and stop fishing.
Talks are ongoing with government to find solutions.

Denmark: The pelagic fleet is working, and factories are still in operation. Crew changes and travel
to/from ship is the main challenge.
The demersal fleet encounters issues with the export markets. The nephrops and grey shrimps’
fisheries are shutdown. Supermarket products such as cod and plaice see a relative surge in prices.
Talks are ongoing with the government to find solutions and enhance domestic consumption.

Germany: There is fear of a complete or partial shutdown of the whole value chain if the processing
industry is affected by the crisis. The market is therefore uncertain.
The closure of HoReCa, amongst which catering is particularly important for buyers in Germany, has
led to prices collapsing (for example Baltic plaice going from 2,00 €/kg to somewhere between 1.20 –
1.50 €/kg).

Finally, the close down imposed in some German Länder has dreadful consequences on the number
of customers for direct to end consumer sales upon which small scale fisheries and coastal
communities are dependant. This is for example the case in the island of Fehmarn, where access has
even been banned for all people who do not live or work on the island.

The Netherlands: The pelagic fleet encounters issues for crew changes (because of closed border,
reduce flights and closed ports). The import demand from important West-African markets have come
to a complete standstill due to fallen oil prices and worsening exchange rate to the USD combined
with corona related lock-downs in major countries. An additional concern is linked to the insurances
for export. Export financing insurance companies are raising the alarm as exposure is way too high for
the market situation. Governments have been asked for guarantees. A quick decision on an increased
banking percentage of 25% is needed.

The demersal sector has suffered from low prices (drop of more than 50%) and demand for some
species over the past weeks. First signs of recovery are observed. But demand in the fresh products
for restaurants has dropped to zero, accompanied with a price reduction of 50% for these species.
Brown shrimp fishery was temporarily stopped for logistical reasons (no processing capacity in

Belgium: The sector aims at continuing to provide the market with fisheries products. It is estimated
that vessel operators suffer revenue losses of about 35% compared to pre COVID-19 prices. Nephrops
and brown shrimp fisheries are most affected, although many vessels shifted to other products.
Promotion is needed to foster local consumption.

France: The market has collapsed for most species that depend on demand in Italy, Spain and France.
Fish auctions operate at reduced speed as there are only few products and buyers. This results in low
prices and it is estimated that prices have gone down by around 66%. Talks are ongoing with
supermarkets to convince them to resume buying of all fish species. Some crew raise the sanitary risk
of continuing operation (small confined environment on board) and masks have been bought in bulk.
As a consequence, very few boats are fishing (mainly small scale or coastal fishing boats not relying on
auctions but on contracts). Some outdoor markets (about 25%) have been reopening allowing for
some fishermen to sell again.

Spain: Demand and prices are down for most of the species in first sale (prices went down from around
-50% to 70%). About 50% of the coastal fleets are tied up in areas like the Mediterranean Sea, Gulf of
Cadiz, Galicia or in the Basque country. The health risk is also a problem for most of the crews.
For large scale fleet fishing in Non-Spanish EU waters, the situation remains relatively normal when
the fishermen are on board. However, crew changes in harbour remains a big concern and the prices
of hake, monkfish and megrim are really low. Four or five companies have also decided to tie up their

The long-distance fleet is for the moment operating, but also facing problems when they have to land
the catches in third countries. It is also very difficult to change the crew because some of the harbours
and borders are closed, there is a reduced number of flights, etc. Furthermore, they are facing
problems to renew some of the fishing licenses. The pole and line fleet fishing in Senegal is tied up.
The industry is discussing with the government to find solutions for support for those who continue
fishing and those who had to stop. However, the main message received for the moment is the lack
of national budget to support fishermen using the de minimis rule. That is why it is also very important
that, exceptionally, the minimis aid could be financed through the EMFF.

Source: EAPO