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Conservative Party urged to stop providing a "foolish" £1.8 billion tax exemption for the British fishing industry.
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Conservative Party urged to stop providing a “foolish” £1.8 billion tax exemption for the British fishing industry.

Conservationists are calling for the government to take immediate action and eliminate tax breaks that contribute to pollution within the UK fishing fleet. This move comes after a groundbreaking study published in Marine Policy last fall, which warns of the potential depletion of fish in the ocean. These tax breaks make up a significant portion, between 15% and 18%, of the fishing industry’s total income, which was valued at £1 billion in the previous year.

Activists stated that this tax break primarily favors fuel-heavy, environmentally damaging fishing techniques like trawling and dredging. This discourages the progress of a more sustainable and eco-friendly industry that utilizes less fuel and produces less carbon emissions.

According to Charles Clover, co-founder of the Blue Marine Foundation and author, the government has never acknowledged the significant amount of tax breaks it has provided to the fishing industry. This suggests that prior to the publication of this paper, the Treasury was unaware of its actions.

We will not be the only ones advocating for the elimination of these unwarranted and foolish subsidies as soon as possible.

A fuel tanker on a quayside with a pipe leading to a fishing boat

Daniel Skerritt, one of the paper’s co-authors and a senior analyst at the not-for-profit environmental group Oceana Canada, said: “What struck me was not just the value of the fuel-tax concession, but how much certain fleet segments need it to survive. This supports the kind of fishing that burns the most fuel, when we ought to be looking at it becoming more fuel efficient.”

According to researchers, beam trawlers, scallop dredging vessels, and North Sea nephrop trawlers would not be financially viable without receiving exemptions on fuel taxes.

According to Skerritt, the fishing industry lagged behind other industries in this field by several decades.

Not ending the tax breaks could lead to issues for the UK. In December, the UK promised to approve the World Trade Organization’s historic deal to stop fishing subsidies and to back the second round of WTO talks in the upcoming month to eliminate harmful subsidies, such as fuel subsidies.

Skerritt acknowledged that abruptly eliminating the tax exemption would have catastrophic consequences for the industry. However, he proposed implementing the change gradually.

He expressed concern about the potential decline of the fishing industry. However, he also emphasized the importance of promoting sustainable practices and not relying on government funding for support.

2 into the ocean

In 2021, an article published in the journal Nature proposed that bottom trawling, a commonly used fishing technique that involves dragging heavy nets along the ocean floor, results in the release of one gigaton of CO2 into the marine environment.2

Every year, it produces the same amount of carbon dioxide as the entire aviation industry.

Co-author Prof Rashid Sumaila, a fisheries economist at the University of British Columbia’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, expressed support for funding fishing communities in the UK. However, he also urged caution in using public funds to deplete the ocean’s fish population, which is essential for the livelihoods, food, and nutritional security of fishers and fishing communities.

According to the authors of the study, maintaining unprofitable parts of the fleet could potentially benefit vulnerable communities by ensuring access to food and income. However, since a large portion of the catch is exported rather than consumed domestically, the argument for food security is not as strong as it initially appears.

The sun shines on a forest of masts of colourful fishing vessels moored in a harbour

A representative from Seafish, a government organization that promotes the UK fishing sector, stated that eliminating this subsidy could result in higher food costs for all individuals. “Removing the exemption for fishing could put our local fishing fleet at a disadvantage compared to imported fish arriving on shipping containers, which would still be exempt.”

The spokesperson stated that agriculture was not included in the exemption. They also mentioned that there is ongoing research and funding being put towards new technologies and investigating alternative fuel sources. However, it will require more investment and time to discover feasible solutions.

The government representative expressed their dedication to promoting sustainable fishing. They announced their recent signing of a global agreement to end harmful subsidies that contribute to overfishing. Additionally, they are allocating an extra £100m to support UK fisheries in becoming more sustainable. Since leaving the EU, the government has utilized their newfound authority to implement more environmentally-friendly fishing policies.

Source: theguardian.com