Environmental organisations ClientEarth and Our Fish have welcomed a decision by the European Commission to follow-up on infringement proceedings against Denmark for failing to properly control fishing practices, and illegal misreporting of catches.
Denmark has been found in breach of its legal obligation to ensure that fishers record bycatches in their electronic logbook, leaving huge quantities of fish undeclared. This compromises scientific evaluations of fish stocks and threatens their sustainability.
This behaviour is in clear violation of the rules contained in the EU fisheries Control Regulation.
As a result, the European Commission has formally notified Danish authorities, giving them two months to comply with EU law.
ClientEarth Fisheries lawyer Elisabeth Druel said: “Denmark is blatantly breaching its obligation to control fishers operating in its waters. We welcome the Commission’s decision to open infringement proceedings for Denmark’s failure to monitor fishing activities by its vessels. In addition, we’re concerned that Danish authorities also granted illegal fishers access to European public money.”
Legally, only fishers and fishing operators who have not contravened the law in the past 12 months can obtain subsidies from member state authorities. In reality, a recent report from the Danish Court of Auditors has shown that Danish authorities have granted subsidies to fishers who were found to be in severe breach of the law.
For example, on one occasion, a fisher was granted money despite having twice misreported his catches by more than 1000%, while another had breached the law five times without receiving any penalty points, in contravention of EU law.
Rebecca Hubbard, Program Director for Our Fish, said: “This infringement proceeding against Denmark comes against a background of shocking evidence of a culture of illegal misreporting by members of the fishing industry, in a fishery previously considered low-risk by control experts. It is now clearly urgent that Danish and EU governments reverse the burden of proof, in order to increase transparency and turn around the culture of non-compliance that pervades the fishing industry. It is time that remote electronic monitoring systems were introduced into EU fleets, and that we stop taking our public fish resources and precious ocean for granted.”
Druel added: “Unfortunately Denmark is not an isolated case. Investigations carried out by ClientEarth have highlighted other shocking breaches of EU fisheries law in countries like France and Italy. On a regular basis, European countries fail to appropriately control fisheries and sanction infringements to the law, compromising the good management of our seas. We hope this issue will be addressed in the coming revision of the EU fisheries control regulation and through strong action from the European Commission.”
The European Parliament will vote on the revision of the EU Fisheries Control System on 16 April. These laws aim to ensure that the objectives of the Common Fisheries Policy are followed in practice by monitoring fisheries and fighting illegal fishing, allowing reliable data collection for managing fishing opportunities, and tracing and checking of fisheries product throughout the supply chain. The vote will be followed later in 2019 by negotiations with the Council in order to reach an agreement on the final text.