In a major policy reversal, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are on the brink of lifting a ban from 2004 on subsidies for building new fishing vessels. Reintroducing these subsidies contravenes the international consensus to end them by 2020 in order to meet United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 14.6.
Lifting the ban would override warnings that European marine biodiversity is in a terrible state (see go.nature.com/2fwsjbv). Fisheries subsidies are partly responsible for this damage to ocean ecosystems and the services they provide (see U. R. Sumaila and D. Pauly Nature 450, 945; 2007).
In our view, a generous slice of the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for 2021–27 should be allocated to environmental protection, research, control and data collection. Instead, the parliament wants up to 60% of the total budget for capacity-enhancing investments onboard (including construction). And the council has not earmarked any budget for environmental protection.
Europe must avoid providing subsidies that take fish from future generations and that set a bad example for the rest of the world at this crucial stage in World Trade Organization negotiations. Academia, non-governmental organizations and civil society must push the European Union to fulfil its sustainability obligations under international agreements and fisheries law.