At a workshop organised by the Pew Environment Group and WWF France today the renowned marine scientist Daniel Pauly, representatives of the French government, the fishing industry, the European Commission, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and civil society highlighted the importance of strengthening fisheries control to combat the plague of illegal fishing.
Illegal fishing represents up to 40% of total catches in some fisheries in European waters, with Italy, Spain and France ranking in the top three for serious infringements recorded in the EU in 2006. The dismal state of fish stocks in European waters combined with EU fleet overcapacity is resulting in more and more infringements, often tolerated by Member States and compounded by ever lower sanctions.
“In 2005, France was fined €20million by the European Court of Justice for landing undersized fish and failing to carry out proper inspections. As a result of a new satellite data transmission system, SATI, France strengthened its control system on industrial fishing vessels,” explained Charles Braine, Sustainable Fisheries officer at WWF France. “Through this technology France has been able to prevent further EU fines of tens of millions of euro and improve its control systems. What is now needed is an effective and manageable control system for the French artisanal fleet.”
The collapse of blue fin tuna in the Mediterranean reveals the wide failure of the fisheries controls to combat pirate fishing. Only through a strong engagement by the European fishing nations and France will it be possible to effectively combat illegal fishing and improve the health of the European fish stocks.
In November 2008, the European Commission presented a proposal to reform the Community control systems which strengthens and augments the current range of measures intended to combat illegal fishing. This proposal is expected to be adopted in the second half of 2009. However, the Commission control proposal must be considered in conjunction with a substantial reduction in the capacity of EU fleets.
“Overcapacity of EU fleets constitutes a major obstacle to rational and sustainable management of fishing activities and is one of the underlying causes of illegal fishing,” said Uta Bellion, Director of Pew's European Marine Programme. “This must be addressed urgently to ensure that EU fishing operations become economically, socially and environmentally viable and to eliminate the incentive to bend or break the rules.”