It seems the captain of Britain’s largest fishing boat isn’t partial to a spot of tea, despite a kind invitation from John Vidal, Environment Editor of the Guardian, as he radioed the vessel from our ship the Arctic Sunrise, off the coast of Mauritania. (See for yourself in John’s video, above.)
But perhaps it was the topic of conversation that was less than palatable. This vessel is just one of many destructive European factory trawlers that our ship has encountered off West Africa in the last six weeks. It’s a classic example of how Europe’s most powerful fishing interests continue to abuse our oceans, at the expense of the local communities that rely on them.
While the owner of the Cornelis Vrolijk claims its company doesn’t receive taxpayer subsidies for its operations and that it pays licence fees to Mauritania, we know the reality is rather different. The fleet of freezer trawlers that this vessel belongs to receives, for example, millions of Euros in fuel tax exemptions every year. On top of that, taxpayers pay 90 per cent of the fees for these vessels to access West African waters.
It’s a moral outrage, and finally it seems that the EU is beginning to recognise this. During Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) reform negotiations, our own Fisheries Minister, Richard Benyon, has personally gone into bat for fisherman like Issa, Celestino, and Karim, whom he met with last year – and who he promised to help. And the ministers of the Fisheries Council have recently adopted conclusions on the “external dimension” – ie how the EU’s distant water fleet operates – that are a definite move in the right direction.
For the first time, the Council formally acknowledges that the EU must apply the same rules for fishing in external waters as it does in domestic waters, while respecting human rights. However, it’s apparent from the final conclusions that the vested interests of certain countries remain at play, and Benyon will have to keep fighting for a strong reform of the CFP to ensure that the principles behind the conclusions are put into effect. And decisions on subsidies policy will be a crucial part of that.
At the end of the day, we need a reformed CFP that gives the right to fish to those that fish in the right way. This applies to fishing that takes place by EU vessels at home, and anywhere in the world. The short-sighted and greedy agenda of powerful industrial interests must not continue to influence the rules.
A UK fisherman once told me that he couldn’t even begin to understand why super-trawlers are allowed to operate – calling them “cargo ships with nets”. And another summed it up perfectly: “It’s not a factory out there”. Too right it’s not. And so, this year, the EU needs to stop treating it like one.