21st Feb 2024


Why should taxpayers pay for private fishing fleets in third countries?

  • There is a very serious challenge — the competition from other foreign actors, less concerned with sustainability, and more interested in just 'paying, fishing, and going' (Photo: Paul Einerhand)
Listen to article

Just a few decades ago the EU was heavily criticised for its 'pay, fish and go' approach when negotiating fisheries access agreements with third countries. The fleets were accused of over-fishing and competition with local fishermen, thereby contributing to food insecurity and a strong sense of injustice and exploitation in many local communities, not least in Africa.

Step-by-step this approach has changed over the years, turning the fisheries agreements into so called partnership agreements with around 15 countries in the global south, with the aim of strengthening the countries own fisheries management capacities — while paying for access to a surplus of fish that the country cannot fish domestically.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Get the EU news that really matters

Instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In that process the agreements have changed name and shape, first to Fisheries Partnership Agreements (FPAs), and then in the reform of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2013 to Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs).

I myself was the rapporteur in the European Parliament of the latest reform of the external dimension of the CFP, and now 10 years later I can say that I am happy to see that the changes we made to these agreements have actually made a difference.

The independent evaluation recently published is overall very positive, recognizing that with the new provisions — for the first time enshrined in the basic regulation of the CFP in 2013 — the SFPAs now constitute a solid framework for cooperation with coastal states very far from the 'pay, fish and go' approach.

There is now much better coherence and synergies with EU development cooperation strategies, the so-called de-coupling of the sectoral support from the access fees that we introduced has been successful in making the support more adapted to real needs of the partner country, and bringing a whole new transparency to the money flow.

The stakeholder consultation process has been more inclusive, including with women organisations.

And the EU has also taken a more regional approach which has led to improvement in cooperation on management and research of shared fish stocks between neighbouring countries. The requirement for scientific proof of a surplus of fish that can be fished by others than the domestic fleet has also made real difference.

However, the evaluation also points to a very serious challenge, which we recognise from many other policy areas. And that is the competition from other foreign actors, less concerned with sustainability, and more interested in just paying, fishing, and going.

Dashed hopes

In 2013, we were hoping for a 'race to the top' to occur, when the EU would offer a much more transparent and responsible approach to the SFPAs, that would in turn encourage coastal states to put similar demands on other distant water fishing fleets.

This has not been as successful as we hoped for. The evaluation emphasises that there needs to be improved application of the "non-discrimination clause" and more transparency from the coastal states, to ensure that the standards imposed on EU vessels through SFPAs will also extend to other fishing fleets having access to the same waters.

This is also important when it comes to so called joint ventures and chartering arrangements, not least when the real beneficial owner of a boat is an EU national.

Also, full transparency on all the terms and conditions of all the foreign and domestic actors is crucial to make public scrutiny and political accountability possible. Here there is still a lot more to be done, including more transparency on the impact of the EU sectoral support.

One question keeps coming back when debating the EU fisheries agreements with the global south and that is: why should taxpayers pay for private fishing fleets operating in third countries?

The answer is: we shouldn't. The EU external fleets can pay for the fishing access by themselves and actually do already, although not always the full cost.

What taxpayers should contribute with however, is making sure the fish that enters the EU market — where now 70 percent of all fish that is consumed is imported — is following rules of sustainability and transparency worth more than the paper they are written on.

That means there must be support to capacity building on monitoring and control, science, vocational training, and infrastructure, among other things, in many partner countries.

Also, in the middle of a climate crisis the EU has a big responsibility to continue to show leadership and reduce its global ecological footprint.

In the CFP there are provisions for prioritising giving fishing access to those that fish in the most responsible way, more selectively, emitting less CO2 and collecting data for instance, and that instrument should be used, thereby creating a race to the top, rather than to the bottom.

Author bio

Isabella Lövin is a former MEP (2009-2014), rapporteur on the external dimension of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, author of the book Silent Seas – the Fish Race to the Bottom (2009), and a former deputy prime minister, minister of development and minister of environment and climate (2014-2021) of Sweden.


This article is sponsored by a third party. All opinions in this article reflect the views of the author and not of EUobserver.


How EU Green Deal fosters overfishing in West Africa

The fishmeal industry in recent years has been growing fast in West Africa, in Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and the Gambia. But that creates problems, with a proliferation of fishmeal factories leading to a "serious overfishing situation."


EU-Morocco fishing deal casts doubt on EU future foreign policy

Not extending the EU fisheries deal with Morocco to fish off the disputed coast of Western Sahara could deprive the Sahrawi people of much-needed income - and throw into question future EU foreign policy in the name of human rights.

The missing piece of the puzzle

A regulatory environment that values innovation will put Europe at the forefront of global research in cell and gene therapies.

Latest News

  1. EU's €723bn Covid recovery fund saw growth, but doubts remain
  2. Von der Leyen rejects extremist parties, leaves door open to ECR
  3. Russian oligarchs failed to get off EU blacklist
  4. Podcast: Navalny, Ian Bremmer and "more Europe"
  5. Only Palestinians paying thousands of dollars leave Gaza
  6. Ukraine refugees want to return home — but how?
  7. African leaders unveil continent-wide plan to buy medicines
  8. EU urban-rural divide not bridged by cohesion policy, report finds

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersJoin the Nordic Food Systems Takeover at COP28
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersHow women and men are affected differently by climate policy
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersArtist Jessie Kleemann at Nordic pavilion during UN climate summit COP28
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP28: Gathering Nordic and global experts to put food and health on the agenda
  5. Friedrich Naumann FoundationPoems of Liberty – Call for Submission “Human Rights in Inhume War”: 250€ honorary fee for selected poems
  6. World BankWorld Bank report: How to create a future where the rewards of technology benefit all levels of society?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsThis autumn Europalia arts festival is all about GEORGIA!
  2. UNOPSFostering health system resilience in fragile and conflict-affected countries
  3. European Citizen's InitiativeThe European Commission launches the ‘ImagineEU’ competition for secondary school students in the EU.
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region is stepping up its efforts to reduce food waste
  5. UNOPSUNOPS begins works under EU-funded project to repair schools in Ukraine
  6. Georgia Ministry of Foreign AffairsGeorgia effectively prevents sanctions evasion against Russia – confirm EU, UK, USA

Join EUobserver

EU news that matters

Join us