The Spanish fishing industry has been hit by implications that 11 of its vessels have been engaged in illegal fishing practices outside EU waters, according to a WWF report. (Photo by Miguel Riopa/AFP via Getty Images)

A report by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) claims that more than half of fishermen and women in the EU earn less than the minimum wage, and calls for economic incentives to move towards a more sustainable EU fisheries market.

The report, Socio-economic Impacts of the EU Common Fisheries Policy: An Evaluation of the EU Fishing Fleet and Options for the Future, reveals that 43% of those working in the EU fishing industry earned below the national minimum wage in 2018, while this figure jumps to 70% for the 56% of EU fishermen and women that work in smaller vessels.

Another striking finding of the report is the extension of illegal fishing practices outside EU waters. A total of 19 EU vessels are currently implicated in these practices, out of 824 active vessels.

Spain owns 11 of these vessels, followed by the Netherlands, Poland and Portugal with two vessels each, while France and Italy have one each. Spain’s vessels represent 4.6% of the country’s total external fleet, “indicating the need for reinforced monitoring, control and surveillance measures, as well as national sanctioning schemes”, says the report.

Dr Antonia Leroy, head of ocean policy at the WWF European policy office, said in a press release: “Many fishers work for very poor pay in an industry that barely keeps afloat financially and is often on the wrong side of the law. This must not continue. The EU must base its fisheries policy on a better understanding of how work conditions and financial stability interact with environmental sustainability. People need to have a job that is fair and decent, as well as environmentally sustainable.”

EU needs to end ‘harmful fisheries subsidies’

The WWF report calls for the elimination of harmful fishing subsidies, “those which use public money in a manner that incentivises overfishing and practices that damage the marine environment”, while also calling for those to be redirected towards helping the transition to low-impact fishing that also “supports a fair standard of living across all vessel segments”.

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Many fishers work for very poor pay in an industry that barely keeps afloat financially and is often on the wrong side of the law. This must not continue. Dr Antonia Leroy, WWF

According to the analysis, EU fisheries are in a good financial position to support this transition towards sustainable fisheries.

It is not all bad news in the report, however, as it also found that between 2013 and 2018 there was a decrease in the number of cases of non-compliance with the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), “indicating that continued investment in fleet monitoring and control is necessary”.

The EU evaluation of the CFP is taking place this year, and the WWF argues that this report shows the need for a “better understanding of the socio-economic dimension of fisheries policies in order to improve the sector”, and the importance of including incentives to “secure an inclusive and fair transition to low-impact fisheries aligned with the CFP and the EU’s environmental objectives, while securing the livelihoods of coastal communities for generations to come”.