When Crime Pays: How the EU Subsidises Illegal Fishing

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Fishsubsidy.org today publishes a list of 42 convictions of fishing vessel owners that have also received EU subsidies under the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). The study, which focuses on two major EU fishing nations, Spain and France, involves matching records of court convictions with data on EU fisheries subsidy payments. Between them, the 36 law-breaking vessels received €13,510,418 in EU subsidies between 1994 and 2006.

Illegal fishing contributes to the overfishing of valuable fish stocks, many of which are at dangerously depleted levels. While previous studies have shown that many EU fisheries subsidies have directly contributed to the overfishing of fish stocks, this is the first study that draws the link between subsidies and illegal fishing. While there is no obligation to take criminal behaviour into account when deciding which vessels should get subsidies, EU Member States are free to consider this information. There is little evidence that any of them are.

“EU Member States should ensure those in receipt of subsidies are not engaged in illegal fishing. Subsidies have in the past fueled overfishing; in the future they must be used to support a transition to more sustainable fishing.” said Markus Knigge of the Pew Environment Group, which commissioned the research into convictions and co-founded the fishsubsidy.org website that tracks EU fisheries subsidies payments.

The research gives only a snapshot of the problem of illegal fishing and the prevalence of EU subsidies being paid to vessels that have been convicted of illegal fishing, or that have gone on to break the law having received subsidies. Data on convictions is very hard to obtain and for this study the principal sources were newspaper reports, which will only ever give a very incomplete picture of the situation.

"European governments should publish comprehensive lists of convictions for illegal fishing so we can know who is breaking the law. This is the only way to ensure that public money is not going to fishermen who are breaking laws that protect our precious fisheries." said Jack Thurston, a co-founder of fishsubsidy.org.

Five of the vessels on the list received more than €1 million each in EU subsidies. They have been convicted of serious infringements ranging from logbook misreporting to captures under minimum size to use of illegal fishing gear and exceeding quota.

Some of the vessels on the list have been convicted multiple times and have been heavily fined. In 2001, Hodeiertza and Gure Reinare, two vessels owned by Pesqueras Zozuak / Pascual Santizo, were found guilty of using illegal fishing gear. Each vessel was fined €35,000. The EU had financed the construction of the vessels to the tune of nearly €2 million between them. Hodeiertza received a further EU grant for modernisation in 2006.

The study also covers the UK which, until December 2009, was alone among Member Statess in publishing detailed prosecution reports until the Marine Fisheries Agency decided to remove this information from its website, on grounds of 'data protection'.

Notes to Editors

The EU’s common fisheries policy (CFP) is a system of rules, fishing quotas, enforcement controls and subsidies. Until 2004 a large sum of money was spent on building new fishing vessels and subsidies continue to be paid for the modernisation of vessels and other measures that increase the pressure on dwindling fish stocks.

  1. According to the European Commission, "In the new programming period 2007-2013, the exclusion of vessel owners convicted of serious infringements from receiving Community aid is so far only possible if it is provided for in the national legislation of a Member State. The Commission, however, intends to monitor the practice of Member States in this field and may eventually propose to incorporate provisions into Community law whereby vessel owners convicted of serious infringements would, if considered necessary, be excluded from receiving Community aid for a specified time."
  2. Fishsubsidy.org is a project coordinated by EU Transparency, a non-profit organisation in the UK and the Pew Charitable Trusts, a charitable foundation based in the United States. The aim is to obtain detailed data relating to payments and recipients of fisheries subsidies in every EU Member State and make this data available in a way that is useful to European citizens. Subsidies paid to owners of fishing vessels and others working in the fishing industry under the European Union’s Common Fisheries Policy amount to approximately €1billion a year. For more information, please visit fishsubsidy.org.

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