When Crime Pays: How the EU Subsidises Illegal Fishing

Contact: Mike Walker, +32 (0)2 274 1625, mwalker@pewtrusts.org

Brussels, Belgium - 03/11/2010 - 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'.

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