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 regions, the average is as little as €288. This is undermining efforts to end overfishing.
ClientEarth’s new report, which focuses on England, the Republic of Ireland, France and Poland, shows that the legislation underpinning the Common Fisheries Policy has been implemented very late, badly, or in some cases not at all.
“Some boats continue to fish above their quota, in the wrong place or at the wrong time, yet the authorities do little or nothing about it. This seriously undermines EU fisheries law, creates unfairness for boats from different countries and those operating legally, and threatens our oceans.”
The number of infringements reported by different Member States varies massively. In England and France, almost 20% of boats inspected at sea were breaching the law, while the number in Ireland and Poland was 3.2% and 2.6% respectively.
Prosecutions are rare and fines are low. So far this year, the English Marine Management Organisation has brought two successful prosecutions in front of the courts, resulting in fines of £500 each. In France, data on fines or other penalties (like suspension or withdrawal of fishing licences) is not transparent and almost 90% of criminal prosecutions are settled out of court. In Ireland, the average fine is €1,450 (£1,242) and in parts of Poland it is as low as €288 (£258), even for “serious” infringements.
Authorities can also penalise fishers breaking the law using a point system. For each serious infringement, the offender receives a number of penalty points; once certain thresholds are reached, its fishing licence can be suspended or revoked.
However, Poland has never issued any points, Ireland’s system is on hold pending two court cases, France has no record of issuing penalty points – though it claimed orally that it had – and England has no evidence of points being given.
Countries also assess and treat serious infringements very differently, creating an unfair environment for boats from different Member States.
For example, last year Ireland found a Danish vessel guilty of fishing without a quota in Irish waters and suggested that Denmark assign penalty points to the vessel, because this is a serious infringement under Irish law. Denmark refused, arguing that a quota swap was made several days after the vessel was caught fishing illegally. This seriously undermined the credibility of the penalty point system and led to outrage in the Irish industry.
These case studies show that in general, the number and level of sanctions is too low to be a real deterrent to vessel operators breaking the law.
Without proper sanctions, the Common Fisheries Policy loses much of its power.
Political will to tackle widespread weak enforcement of the law has clearly been lacking. This must change if EU fisheries law is to protect oceans and the industries that depend on them.