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26-Feb-2014 @ 10:0

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Anthea McIntyre Anthea McIntyre

Anthea McIntyre Anthea McIntyre

Conservative Euro MP Struan Stevenson has contacted the European Commission on behalf of hundreds of British fishermen who have not been able to fish since December due to the relentless storm conditions which have prevented them from going to sea.

These fishermen were finally able to return to the sea only last weekend after almost two months of inactivity. Mr Stevenson informed the European Commission that the inshore fleets, particularly in the South and South West of England and along the Welsh coast, where most fishing activity involves day boats, have been severely impacted. But many fishing communities around the entire UK have also been affected.

Fishermen have faced the choice of risking their lives by putting to sea in life-threatening conditions, or not having enough money to pay their bills and feed their families.

In a special plea to the European Commission, Mr Stevenson, who is Senior Vice President of the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee, said: "There are now signs of increasing hardship and stress and even the Fishermen's Mission has launched an urgent appeal for aid.

"Many of the small scale (under 10 metre) fleet in these affected areas have had no income whatsoever since before Christmas. The extreme weather conditions involving violent storms and excessively high tides have also caused severe damage to harbours, ports, infrastructure, sea defences, vessels, static fishing gear and even shingle beaches. The situation is dire and urgent help is needed."

In an almost immediate response to the Scottish MEP, the Cabinet of Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki, explained that under the current European Fisheries Fund (EFF), assistance can be available to help fishermen replace lost or damaged gear, so long as the new gear is more selective. In addition, as per art 25(7) of the EFF Regulation, the new gear needs to meet recognised environmental criteria and practices which go beyond regulatory obligations under EU Law.

Mr Stevenson pointed out that the EFF Operational Programme is managed by the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) in the UK. He suggested that fishermen should apply directly for support through the usual application procedure of the programme explained on the website of the MMO.

The European Commission also stated that the recently agreed European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF) may co-finance mutual funds for fisherman, to allow them to finance special insurance schemes to compensate income losses in cases of adverse climatic conditions. As for fishermen losing their fishing gear due to adverse climactic conditions (e.g. storms), the EMFF may support the purchase of new more selective gear.

According to the Common Provisions Regulation, expenditure under the EMFF is eligible as of 01/01/2014 even if the Operational Programme (OP) is not adopted, provided it will then be covered by the corresponding measure under the new OP. The EMFF Operational Programme for the UK will also be managed in the UK by the Marine Management Organisation.

The EU's state aid rules for the fisheries sector also allows for certain national schemes to support these types of losses incurred by fishermen and other professionals in the sector as a result of adverse meteorological conditions. For example, the UK government could apply for emergency assistance under the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF), which provides financial aid in case of major natural disasters (and major destruction/losses) at Member State level.

Commenting from the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Struan Stevenson said "There are a number of ways in which fishermen hit hard by the recent storms can get help, as well as schemes through which they can get financial aid to insure against similar future disasters. I do hope that all of the relevant authorities will cooperate to get assistance to the places where it most needed without delay."

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