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21st Feb 2024

EU fishing fleet gets up to €1.5bn tax break, despite emissions

  • Activists are calling on the European Commission to scrap tax exemptions for the fishing industry under the current revision of tax rules (Photo: Ben Sutherland)
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A new report revealed on Monday (20 September) that the EU fishing fleet receives up to €1.5bn from tax breaks each year, despite emitting the same amount of CO2 as Malta in a year from burning fuel.

The fleet, which consists of some 63,600 active vessels, burns 2.3bn litres of fuel each year to provide 5.2m tonnes of seafood with an estimated value of €7.7bn, according to figures released in 2018.

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The burning of that fuel produces nearly 7.3m tons of CO2 per year - which is equivalent to the same amount of CO2 emitted by the whole of Malta in 2019.

Yet, the EU fishing industry avoids paying taxes of between €759m and €1.5bn on this fuel each year, a report from NGO Our Fish has found.

Now the marine activists are calling on the European Commission to scrap tax exemptions for the fishing industry under the current revision of tax rules.

They say that the 'polluters-pay' principle must also apply to the EU fishing fleet, as they are responsible for burning fossil fuels.

Their report adds that this amount of money should be used to fund a transition to more energy-efficient fishing methods and the training of people into new jobs.

"These tax breaks from the EU not only worsen overfishing and jeopardise ocean health, but they also fuel climate change, the impacts of which will further disadvantage low-impact small-scale fishers," said Rebecca Hubbard from Our Fish.

"At this point of the climate emergency, every tonne of CO2 counts," she added, pointing out that cutting tax subsidies in the industry would speed up the green transition in the sector.

According to Green MEP Grace O'Sullivan, "[these] subsidies have created a skewed system which incentivises larger vessels and fleets to engage in practices that actively harm the marine environment and deplete already threatened fish stocks".

And they are "a key obstacle" to achieving emissions reductions and reversing the biodiversity crisis, she added.

MEPs previously called for phasing-out all environmentally-harmful subsidies by 2027.

As part of the Green Deal, the EU Commission is revising the Energy Taxation Directive to align taxation with energy and climate policies.

But the review has been slammed for applying only a small nominal tax to the fishing industry.

"Tax exemptions for the fishing industry should be completely removed from the revised directive and all energy products taxed according to their energy and carbon content," said Hubbard.

The report also suggests that scrapping tax exceptions should be combined with an increase in the fisheries budget of EU member states in order to boost a more sustainable fisheries sector.

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