Sanctions for fishing violations are inconsistent and toothless, according to a major report released today by the European Commission.
Examining the law that enforces the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy – known as the Control Regulation – the Commission found that, although the implementation of this text has led to many improvements to the current control system, many EU countries still show little willingness to catch or fine boats fishing in the wrong place, at the wrong time or without quota for their haul.
ClientEarth lawyer Elisabeth Druel said: “If EU countries don’t properly enforce fisheries laws, there won’t be enough fish in the sea. It’s as simple as that. This report shows that the Control Regulation has been working to a certain extent, but that it also needs all member states to show real commitment to enforcing the Common Fisheries Policy. If they do not, the Commission should consider starting legal proceedings.
“It is not the Control Regulation which is at fault, but EU countries’ failure to enforce it. As a consequence, the focus of the coming years should be on implementation rather than writing new rules with the risk that they will not be put in place as well. If the law is to be revised, the revision should be limited and focus on technical issues. This latest approach was supported by MEPs in a 2016 report, and is the best way to make EU fisheries law work for industry, consumers and marine life.”
Enforcement, especially concerning sanctions and point system and follow up of infringements are some of the areas that show the biggest shortcomings, pointed out the Commission in its report.
France, Finland and Germany have some of the worst enforcement records, with only two serious infringements detected and zero penalty points given between them in 2014, according to reports obtained by ClientEarth. This compares to 805 serious infringements found by Spain and 538 by Italy the same year.
This does not mean French, Finnish and German fishing boats are sticking more closely to the law. Rather, it shows that some countries are not properly enforcing fisheries law, either by not checking what boats are doing, or by avoiding categorising infringements as serious.
Under EU law, if infringements are qualified as serious, fishers can have their licence suspended and lose EU funds.
In its report, the Commission underlines that the effective implementation of the sanctioning system is key to ensure equal treatment of fishers but recognises the existence of shortcomings in the implementation of these provisions by member states.
This finding is strongly supported by ClientEarth’s recent analysis, which concluded that EU fisheries law is not being properly enforced and fines for illegal fishing are rare. When fines are given, they are very low – in some countries, the average is €288. This is a major impediment to ending overfishing. It also creates unfair competition for law-abiding EU fishers.
Read the Commission’s press release and report: Respect of fishing rules has improved in the past years, but more needs to be done to achieve full compliance, reveals a Commission evaluation on the fisheries control regime
Read ClientEarth’s analysis: Slipping through the net – the control and enforcement of fisheries in England, France, Ireland and Poland