The European Commission says it is revising EU state aid rules to provide temporary relief for fishing fleets and fish farmers who have been hard hit by the economic consequences of Covid-19 writes Lorna Siggins
A “dramatic downturn” in the demand for seafood has prompted the move by the EU, which says it will allow member states to increase the maximum amount of “de minimis” aid from a current level of €30,000 to €120,000.
The Irish fleet is facing forced tie-ups as retailers, restaurants, canteens and other large-scale buyers reduce or temporarily closing down their activities. The largely export-led Irish seafood industry has been badly affected by restricted or closed access to European and Asian markets,
The European Commission also notes that the industry depends on logistics such as landing facilities, transport and storage, which may also be affected by the evolving crisis.
European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries Virginijus Sinkevičius said that “our fishermen and women and our aquaculture farmers are among the first to suffer the economic consequences of COVID-19, as the demand for seafood has experienced a dramatic slump”
“ But let me say it loud and clear: the European Union stands with you through this crisis. Together, we will ensure that the EU maintains a strong seafood industry and thriving coastal communities, now and in the future,” he said.
The European Commission said this morning that the revised state aid rules will enable member states to make immediate support available, in the form of grants or tax advantages, to operators facing a sudden shortage or unavailability of liquidity.
“ In many cases, this can mean the difference between permanently closing activities and long-term survival of healthy businesses and thousands of jobs,”it said.
“The impact of these measures on coastal areas goes well beyond the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Also companies in the wider blue economy – from biotech to tourism – will benefit, as worsening economic conditions and restrictions on movement will be felt across the Union over the coming weeks and months,”it said in a statement. Aid can be granted until December 31st, 2020.
It said the aid measures are “fully in line with the EU’s common fisheries policy, which promotes sustainable use of ocean resources”. It said aid is not applicable to activities explicitly excluded from the de minimis aid in the fishery and aquaculture sector.
Killybegs Fishermen’s Organisation (KFO) chief executive Sean O’Donoghue said that the public was buying canned, rather than fresh fish, and access to cold storage for sufficient frozen product – which could allow prawn vessels to store catch - was proving an issue across Europe.
A briefing document by two European industry organisations, Europeche and EAPO, which Mr O’Donoghue has forwarded to Minister for Agriculture and Food Michael Creed describes how the Irish nephrops (prawns), whitefish and brown crab fleets that rely heavily on exports to the Chinese, Italian, Spanish and French markets have seen “huge prices drops and market closures”.
“This is also the case for other species in many countries. This led to the fishing activity being suspended and the whole seafood industry sector is affected,” the documents says.
EU fleets face a drop to “about zero” of all sales to restaurants and food services,” the document says.
The European fishing industry organisations are seeking a number of measures, including ensuring vessels can carry more than ten per cent of their quota into next year.