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New study discusses the fairness of access fees paid by EU boat owners

A study, supported by Pew and published by the scientific paper Plos One, discusses EU fishing agreements. Based on data from 1980 to 2012, the University of British Columbia authors found that, overall, the EU "is paying 75% of the access fees for European vessels to fish in the waters of developing countries in Africa and the South Pacific", with industry paying the remaining 25%. "But that represents only about 2% of the revenue it receives from selling the catch."

This represents a large subsidy for the EU fleets' access, which "may lead to overexploitation of the developing countries' tuna populations and other already vulnerable marine resources," says the main author.

To calculate the industry's fees and its revenues from fishing, the researchers used data from the agreements and a database of global fish prices: "Such calculations were possible only for agreements relating to tuna, because other agreements did not consistently include the catch level available to EU vessels."

The authors recommend that host countries learn from Pacific nations that recently began to charge higher fees for access to their waters up to 50% more than the world average in the case of the island nation of Kiribati. They also note that a senior representative of the French tuna fleet recently acknowledged that the fee paid by the industry is low and that it would be reasonable to set it at up to 7% of the value of fish landed.

Although there are operating costs that the industry must cover (e.g. wages, fuel, taxes), it is expected that the net benefit accrued to the industry represents a sizeable part of the gross revenue, hence there is some room to raise the industry fishing fees.

To assess what would be a 'fair' fee is a political decision requiring better understanding of the profits made by fishing firms operating under these access agreements.

In its discussion, the study highlights that "Harmonising regulations among the various Directorate Generals would allow the creation of strengthened partnership, which could in turn help to ensure that host countries are less inclined to replace EU agreements with more opaque private business agreements or joint ventures, or agreements with countries that are less transparent or accountable in their agreements and negotiations (such as China).

Note that joint ventures can be perceived by host countries as more beneficial than foreign fishing access agreements, because they generate more local value, for example, through the construction of local processing plants and the creation of associated jobs. It could be argued whether or not it would be in the interest of the EU to directly subsidise the development of a domestic fleet or joint ventures, which will in turn negatively impact the fishing opportunities offered to the EU distant fleet.

The study concludes that, 'The EU has the potential to become a global leader in equitable and sustainable fishing, especially given its existing attempts to move in this direction through the elimination of mixed agreements and the addition of various beneficial clauses in its remaining agreements. However, there are numerous advances that would need to be made to ensure a more balanced and equitable arrangement between the EU and the host countries'.