The Commission has adopted a communication amending the Guidelines for the examination of State aid to the fishery and aquaculture sector. Subject to strict sustainability requirements, the revision enables State aid for purchasing fishing vessels in the outermost regions of the EU. The aim is facilitate fleet renewal in order to increase the safety of fishers, ensure food supplies, and allow the fishery sector to play an important role in the overall development of the regions.
The new measures will allow Member States to offer public support for buying of new fishing vessels to individual fishermen and companies based in one of the nine outermost regions of the EU. The State aid can be used to replace outdated and unsafe vessels with new ones. If the capacity limits of a region have not yet been reached, the funding can be used to buy new vessels of different types and lengths that are more suitable for current fishing opportunities. Before paying aid to individual beneficiaries, the Commission has to assess the planned aid schemes and authorise them. The Guidelines set out the specific conditions under which the Commission will do so.
The Guidelines put particular emphasis on avoiding any negative impact on the sustainability of fish stocks. State aid can only be granted if there is a proper balance between fish resources and the fishing capacity of the fleet segment acquiring a new vessel. Furthermore, the introduction of a new vessel must be done in full respect of the capacity ceilings set out in EU law. Aid is particularly needed in the case of small and medium-range vessels. The maximum intensity of public aid does therefore vary depending on the length of vessels.
The Guidelines also ensure that the benefits of public support remain within the outermost region concerned. Aid can therefore only be granted to beneficiaries registered in the region at the date of granting the aid. Furthermore, the vessel must remain registered in the outermost region concerned for at least 15 years and must, during that time, land all of its catches in an outermost region.
Article 349 TFEU recognises the specific structural and economic situation of the outermost regions of the EU: Guadeloupe, French Guiana, Martinique, La Réunion, Mayotte, Saint-Martin, the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands, and indicates the factors that severely and permanently constrain their development: remoteness, insularity, small size, difficult topography and climate, and economic dependence on a limited range of products.
In its communication on a new EU strategy for the outermost regions of 24 October 2017 (COM(2017) 623 final), the Commission highlighted persisting challenges such as climate change and a critical divergence in the level of development, wealth, and economic and social opportunity between some of the outermost regions and continental Europe. Given that all outermost regions are islands or have access to the sea, successfully using the opportunities offered by a sustainable blue economy, including fisheries, is central to their continued socio-economic development.
One of the measures announced to tackle specific difficulties in the fishery sector, was precisely allowing State aid for the construction of new vessels in the outermost regions subject to conditions of sustainable fisheries. In his speech at the Conference of the Presidents of the outermost regions held in Cayenne on 27 October 2017, President Juncker explained that the Commission would adjust its State aid rules to the particularities of the outermost regions in order to enable modernisation of the fishery sector.
The State aid measures are only part of a larger package of support and opportunities for the outermost regions. Paired with investments in processing and marketing and the tourism sector, which produces a high demand for fish products, the EU facilitates the creation of conditions that enables viable economic activities for fishermen and their communities.