The first round of European Parliament discussions of the EU’s fisheries reform next week will take place in the wake of allegations of serious non-compliance with the existing rules, and complicity by member-state authorities.
A report compiled by Greenpeace denounces failings that it says it has identified in the way national authorities control the subsidies paid to fishing firms. It highlights the case of a family firm based in Galicia, Vidal Armadores, which it says has received successive subsidies, despite a record of illegal fishing.
Greenpeace claims that this fishing empire received at least €16 million in subsidies between 2002 and 2009, despite repeated offences by its companies and fines amounting to more than €3m.
A Greenpeace investigation has concluded that the network run by this family has been prosecuted in the US, Spain, the UK and elsewhere for fishing off-quota, trans-shipping and other infringements.
Many of the prosecutions have failed because the ships fled the prosecuting nation’s jurisdiction and three of its vessels are blacklisted by the EU, says the Greenpeace investigation. And it says that extensive correspondence between the Commission, Spanish authorities and the company provides evidence of the Spanish authorities’ complacency in the face of serious allegations of illegality.
By pumping money into companies and individuals with connections to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing operations Spain is perpetuating illegal activities. “Spain is not only nurturing a culture of maladministration and perversion of the Common Fisheries Policy [CFP] that is tarnishing the European industry as a whole, but also putting remaining fish stocks at severe risk of collapse,” says Greenpeace.
“The serious allegations are already under investigation by the European Commission and being followed up with the Spanish national authorities. We are establishing all facts in order to pursue breaches,” said Maria Damanaki, the European commissioner for maritime affairs and fisheries.
But Alicia Villauriz, Spain’s secretary-general for marine affairs, rejected Greenpeace’s allegations. She told journalists that Spain had granted subsidies “with total rigour and in line with the law” and counter-accused the report of inaccuracy and distortion.
“The EU has never denounced Spain’s conduct on fishing subsidies,” she added. Vidal Armadores was subject to the maximum sanctions possible under the law – including a fine of €150,000 – as soon as its illicit actions were detected. “As of today, it can no longer receive subsidies,” she said.
‘Not a Spanish defect’
The Spanish official also claimed that Spain was among the leading countries in combating illegal fishing – but that this is “a complex and difficult problem requiring action at international level; it is not a Spanish defect, but a defect of the other countries”.
The Commission will present its proposals for a revised CFP to MEPs on the fisheries committee next Wednesday (11 October).
The Commission proposals aim at ending overfishing, boosting regional control, banning discards and promoting healthy fish stocks and a viable sector and coastal communities. The subsidies regime has repeatedly been criticised as “perverse” for failing to link aids adequately to reducing overfishing. The denunciations of current and past abuses by campaigners are seen as helpful by reformers.
More than 40 organisations representing smaller fishing interests and environmentalists have signed a declaration backing the reform proposals and calling for access to fishing grounds to be based on how far fishing conduct meets social and environmental criteria. It will be presented next Monday to the Parliament, the Commission and Poland, which holds the presidency of the EU’s Council of Ministers.
Markus Knigge, an adviser to the Pew Environment Group, said: “A new CFP must stop overfishing and ensure that those who fish in more environmentally and socially responsible way have priority access to the resource.”
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