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ClientEarth Communications

5th August 2019

Sustainable Seafood Coalition (SSC)
Wildlife & habitats
Fisheries & Seafood

Spain should continue to tackle illegal fishing – other EU member states must follow.

ClientEarth legal experts have produced a briefing for European policy makers outlining the importance of imposing significant deterrent sanctions and penalties against citizens and organisations that have taken part in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing activities.

IUU fishing is one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity: it damages marine habitats, endangers fish stocks, contributes to unfair competition between fishers and weakens coastal areas.

Nieves Noval, a lawyer at our Madrid office, said: “The European Union and its member states have an important role to play in tackling the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing”

Using Spain as a case study, the Spanish legal process for prosecuting illegal fishing: A story of success? legal experts highlighted how Operations Sparrow I and II, resulted in €25 million worth of administrative fines – the highest ever administrative fines seen in the EU for IUU fishing.

By adopting punitive actions against nationals and companies engaged in IUU fishing activities, Spain showed how strong leadership could bring success.

The briefing also examines the basis of the prosecutions undertaken so far and further improvements to the Spanish systems that could be made. “In Spain, there are still some loopholes in the country’s legislation related to the administrative and criminal process for prosecuting IUU-related offences that must be closed” says Nieves Noval.

The briefing´s key recommendations include:

  • Amending Spanish laws to ensure that Spanish courts hear cases on IUU offences
  • Changing the Spanish Criminal Code to include an explicit reference to offences related to IUU fishing
  • Spain providing specific training to all its authorities and officials – including judges and magistrates – on IUU fishing activities and its technical particularities
  • Spain creating, within the State Security Forces, a specific IUU fishing unit
  • The international bodies involved in the fight against IUU fishing must coordinate their control activities with shared electronic databases, clear strategies and joint structured plans

Our briefing also highlighted how the criminal process against Spanish ship owner Vidal Armadores revealed significant limitations in the criminal procedure against IUU practices. In that case, the Spanish Supreme Court ruling concluded that Spain’s courts had no jurisdiction over IUU fishing on external waters.

Even though some fine-tuning in the system to prosecute IUU is necessary, Spain should continue to keep its standards high, so that other EU members states can follow suit and better implement the legal sanctions provided by the EU IUU regulation in their own countries.