The European Commission has suffered a major backlash from EU fishermen over proposals to slash fishing levels in the Western Mediterranean. The Spanish Fisheries Confederation (Cepesca) and the National Federation of Fishermen’s Guilds (FNCP) have condemned plans by the bloc to reduce trawling numbers in the region in 2021.
The EU proposal would result in a 15 percent reduction in the fishing days already allocated to Spain, France and Italy.
Spanish, French and Italian groups have issued a warning over the financial impactions on the industry in a letter to Virginijus Sinkevicius, the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries.
EU fishermen are already bound by red-tape under a Multi-annual Management Plan which forms part of the controversial Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).
In a furious joint letter, the fishing organisations point to measures already introduced across the Western Mediterranean in 2019, including reducing fishing hours – in some cases by more than 20 percent.
Javier Garat, Secretary General of Cepesca, says fishing chiefs understand the need for sustainable fishing methods but warned new rules could lead to mass unemployment and firms going bust.
He said: “We are aware of the need for sustainable management of resources in the Western Mediterranean, hence we have scrupulously complied with the temporary closures and the reduction of fishing effort during the first year of application of the plan.
“However, in the exceptional circumstances that we are going through our fishermen need more than ever to continue working to overcome the catastrophic socio-economic consequences that this pandemic entails.”
He added: “The establishment of additional reduction measures in 2021 will only contribute to undermine the profitability of the shipowners and, quite possibly, to lead them to bankruptcy, with the consequent destruction of fleet and employment.”
Basilio Otero, president of the FNCP, has also warned fishermen are already struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and warned more regulations could lead to the “destruction of jobs”.
He said: “We understand the need to recover the Mediterranean and, for this, the sector has taken measures.
“In a year complicated by the pandemic we are suffering, the sector has adapted to the demands of the reduction of the Mediterranean plan, but a further reduction in 2021, such as the one intended, will lead to the closure and sale of numerous vessels with the consequent destruction of jobs, direct and indirect.
“Having to understand, moreover, that vessels that do not comply with European standards operate in the Mediterranean.”
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier was in London on Monday to resume trade talks with UK counterpart David Frost.
Mr Barnier tweeted he was “happy to be back” in the capital, with the two teams “redoubling our efforts” for an agreement.
He listed the three major sticking points – governance, the level playing field and fishing policies – as the three “keys to unlock a deal”.
(Additional reporting by Maria Ortega)