20 March 2020
By Mary Bermingham
As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens the health of our citizens, many parts of the EU economy are also experiencing major disruptions. Fishing and aquaculture have been among the hardest hit sectors. The European Commission has therefore decided to revise EU state aid rules, which allow Member States to provide temporary relief to economic operators hit by the crisis. The new rules include a large increase of the maximum amount of de minimis aid per undertaking, from currently € 30,000 to € 120,000.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, European Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, said: “Our fishermen and women and our aquaculture farmers are among the first to suffer the economic consequences of COVID-19, as the demand for seafood has experienced a dramatic slump. But let me say it loud and clear: the European Union stands with you through this crisis. Together, we will ensure that the EU maintains a strong seafood industry and thriving coastal communities, now and in the future.”
The demand for seafood is experiencing a dramatic downturn, as retailers, restaurants, canteens and other large-scale buyers are reducing or temporarily closing down their activities. Moreover, the seafood industry depends on logistics such as landing facilities, transport and storage, which may also be affected by the evolving crisis.
The revised state aid rules will enable Member States to make immediate support available, in the form of grants or tax advantages, to operators facing a sudden shortage or unavailability of liquidity. In many cases, this can mean the difference between permanently closing activities and long-term survival of healthy businesses and thousands of jobs.
The impact of these measures on coastal areas goes well beyond the fisheries and aquaculture sectors. Also companies in the wider blue economy – from biotech to tourism – will benefit, as worsening economic conditions and restrictions on movement will be felt across the Union over the coming weeks and months.
Aid can be granted until 31 December 2020 to undertakings that face difficulties as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
These aid measures are fully in line with the EU’s common fisheries policy, which promotes sustainable use of ocean resources. Aid is not applicable to activities explicitly excluded from the de minimis aid in the fishery and aquaculture sector.