Europêche and EAPO have identified a series of measures to support the fishing industry through the current crisis

European fishing industry body Europêche and the European Association of Fish Producer organisations (EAPO) are jointly committing to maintaining the supply of seafood.

‘As a responsible industry we will do our outmost to continue with the supply of safe and healthy seafood during this crisis. As one of the essential sectors of the European food supply chain it is crucial that governments, national or European, devise and take measures that allow, or better, encourage fishermen to continue with their fishing activities and supply European consumers with seafood,’ the two organisations state.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen last week announced a €37 billion initiative to cushion economies from the impact of coronavirus. Image: European Council

‘Europêche and EAPO welcome the announcement by President Ursula von der Leyen on Friday 13th March, that the European Union will launch a €37 billion investment initiative as part of a package of measures to cushion the bloc’s economies from the impact of coronavirus. The seafood sector will have to be taken into account and supported through this investment initiative.’

A detailed list of proposals has been formulated, and the two organisations draw attention to the fact that there are serious ongoing consequences of the escalating measures taken by European governments to contain the Covid-19 crisis, leading to disruptions in the trade and value chains while evaporating demand has resulted in falling prices, as well as temporary cessation of fishing.

The European Commission has already made its own wide-ranging proposals, while Europêche and EAPO have identified a series of measures that need to be taken to tackle effectively the problems resulting from Covid-19 as it continues to spread.

The two industry organisations propose that member states:
• Give fishermen the option to carry over more than the existing 10% of their fishing quotas to next year – as defined under the Flexibility Regulation or art 15(9) of the Basic Regulation. 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.
• Establish minimum price mechanisms through POs, in which the State helps finance these activities, ensuring that intervention prices are fair prices, that would cover the operational expenses.
• Guarantee through state emergency plans that the logistic services can distribute seafood products at fair prices that avoid excessive costs to the producer and avoid excessive prices to the consumer and sale price that is proportional to intervened priced at origin.
• Adopt a set of measures that guarantee the logistical need of crews and vessels, with reference to transport of fish, transport of crews, transport of gear, supplies and spare parts, health protocols adjusted to the different fleets and that do not provoke a freeze in activity, as well as guaranteeing movement of crews between vessels and home towns and guaranteeing the supply of protective equipment to crews and fish auction staff.

Europêche and EAPO are urging the European Commission to use high-speed procedures to make a number of legislative changes and adjustments to national EMFF programmes on behalf of fishermen and companies affected by the Covid-19 measures.

Proposals by Europêche and EAPO include legislative changes and adjustments to national EMFF programmes

These recommendations include an urgent modification to Art. 33 of the Regulation 508/2014, to make provision for EU fishermen and operators to receive allowances and compensation under the current EMFF for the temporary cessation of their activities under the events described in temporary cessation, for direct (affected and quarantine) and indirect (trade and marketing of the product) reasons related to health crisis such as the coronavirus one.

They also propose amendments to Art.66 of the Regulation 508/2014 on production and marketing plans to allow for the preparation and implementation of revised marketing plans with increased expenditure support, Art. 67 of Regulation 508/2014, to extend the possibility of support for storage under the specific circumstances of the application of contingency measures for coronavirus. The support referred to shall not be subject to any period of prescription. 
An amendment to Art. 3.2 of Regulation 717/2014 to temporarily uncap the de minimis aid (i.e. remove the limit of EUR 30.000 per company over a period of three fiscal years) in order to be able to adapt the financial aid to the businesses situation is recommended, as is an amendment to Article 4.1. of the Guidelines for the examination of State aid to the fishery and aquaculture sector (2015/C 217/01) which establishes the possibility to compensate the damage caused by exceptional occurrences.

The industry requests the option to provide this financial aid through the EMFF and therefore a legislative modification of the latter fund is required.

‘In order to deal with this situation and unless there is additional financial support, the sector requests the possibility to reprogram the national operational plans to reallocate and transfer unused funding between priorities so it can be destined to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus where needed as well as increase the ceilings involved in the Regulation as necessary,’Europêche and EAPO state.

‘Given the situation of state aid to the industry, it should be taken into account that if new measures or changes are set under other Funds to compensate the agri-food industry, these should be reflected in parallel in the fisheries and aquaculture state aid regulations.’

In addition to these measures at EU level, EAPO and Europêche call on Member States to introduce national measures such as VAT reduction and tax exemptions or deferrals.

‘In view of the current developments, it seems only logical to aim at extending the Brexit transition period with another 12 months at least,’ they suggest. ‘Although we realise that also the UK has to agree with such decision.’

‘Finally, as all efforts must focus on the crisis at hand, we call for temporarily pausing the current legislative and regulatory processes.’