On Friday 11th of March a letter was sent by TransparentSea to the European Commission requesting access to ex-ante and ex-post evaluations of all EU fisheries access agreements. 20 organisations signed this letter, which was addressed to the Head of the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, Ms Lowri Evans.
The documents requested from DG-MARE should contain scientific evaluations of fishing opportunities in foreign countries, used to assess the volume of ‘surplus fish’ that is available for European boats. They also provide an evaluation of the social, developmental and environmental impact of these agreements, now held with 17 countries, mostly in Africa. DG-MARE has previously argued these documents should remain confidential in order to protect the commercial interests of the European fishing fleet. Yet as detailed in our letter, this seems objectionable and runs contrary to the Aarhus Convention–a legally binding agreement ratified by the EU which sets out the rights of citizens to gain access to information on the environment held by public authorities.
EU fisheries agreements, now referred to as Fisheries Partnership Agreements, remain controversial. There has been widespread concern that these agreements have allowed overfishing to occur. The European fishing industry and DG-MARE disagrees, arguing that these agreements have effectively regulated fishing intensity by European boats and they actively promote responsible fisheries in developing countries. Indeed, for decades substantial amounts of money have been transferred to developing countries through access agreements, and the EC has insisted that a proportion of these funds are used for local capacity building and development.
It is precisely this controversy that makes publishing the evaluations of access agreements so important. In fact, a failure to make these documents public may be fueling suspicion over the European fishing industry, and accusations of Spanish or French boats ‘plundering’ Africa’s fish may be exaggerated. The commercial interests of the European fishing fleet is probably strengthened by improving transparency in fisheries, particularly if we are to believe that the real problem of overfishing in many developing countries stems from the distant water fishing fleets of Asia and the Far East, as is claimed by European fishers.
To date, the only publicly available study commissioned by the EC on the impact of these agreements was written in 1999, available here. Yet DG-MARE has commissioned scores of further reports that is chooses to keep hidden. Indeed, DG-MARE has refused to show these reports to European Parliamentarians, including those that sit of the Committee for Fisheries. Whether disclosing evaluations held by the EC is in the best interest of the fishing industry or not, surely citizens in African countries, as well as in Europe, have a right to know how European funds paid for fisheries access have been spent and whether access agreements have been sustainable? I think it will be difficult for DG-MARE to argue otherwise.
All correspondence from DG-MARE on this request for information will be published on this website, as will the evaluation documents themselves if, or when, they are released.