Shocking cases of illegal fishing in EU highlight the need for stronger fisheries control

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

A recent ClientEarth's report highlighted cases of fishing with explosive in Italy. [SHUTTERSTOCK]

The European Parliament and the Council must take into consideration recent cases of illegal fishing activities in order to be better prepared for the negotiations over the EU Fisheries Control System’s revision starting next year, writes Elisabeth Druel.

Elisabeth Druel is a Fisheries lawyer at ClientEarth, a group of activist lawyers committed to secure a healthy planet.

In May this year, the European Commission released a proposal to revise the EU Fisheries Control System.

These regulations detail monitoring and control rules for fishers as well as rules for the member states when they are conducting inspections and sanctioning infringements of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The positions of the Council and of the European Parliament on this important file are expected next year. When discussing this topic, it is crucial that the member states and the MEPs take into consideration several recent cases which illustrate national authorities’ failure to fully engage in the fight against illegal fishing activities committed by their nationals or by vessels flying their flag or operating in their waters.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of those cases:

  • In May 2018, the European Commission opened an infringement procedure against Ireland for its failure to establish an effective penalty point system. Since 2012, Member States have been required to implement a penalty point system, similar to the one for driving offences in many countries, to sanction serious infringements of the rules of the CFP (the list includes violations such as fishing in closed areas or without a valid licence, or assaulting an inspector). Research conducted by ClientEarth has shown that Ireland has failed, so far, to comply with this requirement.
  • In October 2018, a police operation coordinated by Europol led to the arrest of 79 people involved in the traffic of illegally caught Bluefin tuna. The fish were caught illegally in Italian and Maltese waters and exported to Spain through French ports. It is believed that the value of this traffic represented more than €12 million a year.
  • Also in October this year, the Danish Court of Auditors published a report on the management of EU funding for fisheries in Denmark. The report revealed that Danish control authorities have failed to apply penalty points, as required under EU law, to fishers who conducted illegal operations, such as fishing in closed areas, misreporting catches or operating illegally in the waters of another EU Member State.
  • In November 2018, Irish newspapers leaked a report from the European Commission which revealed severe failures undermine the Irish fisheries control system.
  • The same month, the Maltese Court of Auditors published a report assessing the performance of the country’s Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture. According to its worrying findings, the Department is currently severely understaffed and as a result unable to fulfil all its control and inspections missions.
  • In December 2018, ClientEarth published a new report on the control and enforcement of fisheries in Italy. This report highlights that cases of fishing with explosives have been detected recently in Italy and that Italian trawlers have been operating illegally in the waters of Western African States.

All these cases demonstrate that the EU Member States still have much to do if they want to fully comply with international and European requirements to control vessels flying their flag and effectively sanction them when they break fisheries laws.

In the meantime, the EU continues to implement ambitious legislation to fight illegal fishing, asking third countries to certify that their fisheries products were caught legally before being authorised to export them into its territory.

Being able to show that the EU Member States are complying with their own fisheries control policy whilst at the same time asking third countries to fight illegal fishing in their waters is a matter of international credibility for the EU.

For these reasons, decision-makers must ensure that the revision of the EU Fisheries Control System leads to the adoption of improved, strengthened rules, which should in turn be fully implemented by the Member States.

Read the full NGO joint position paper here.

Subscribe to our newsletters