Spanish government last Friday announced penalties that could reach more than €11 million against Spanish nationals, including companies involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. An EU coalition of three international NGOs, including Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana and WWF described the fines as a historic moment in the battle against IUU fishing and are calling on other EU member states to follow suit with their own nationals.
The fines, the highest known imposed by an EU government, are issued against companies and individuals for 19 serious infringements linked to illegal fishing activities in the Southern Ocean.
The companies are allegedly linked to a Galician syndicate suspected of poaching Patagonian toothfish in Antarctic waters for more than a decade.
“This is the highest known sanction and the first of its kind ever imposed in the European Union regarding IUU fishing,” said Maria Jose Cornax, fisheries campaign manager at Oceana.
The “announcement sends a clear warning message to citizens who until now have felt protected by anonymous shell companies in offshore havens and flags of convenience. Benefiting economically from IUU fishing will not be tolerated anymore by any EU national”, she said.
The fines have come about as a result of ‘Operation Sparrow’, a raid on fishing company offices conducted by the Spanish authorities in search of evidence of links with IUU fishing.
The operation gathered and analyzed more than 3,000 documents, and found clear evidence that these companies are behind Kunlun, Yongding, Songhua and Tiantai, four internationally blacklisted vessels.
These vessels were detected fishing illegally earlier this year by Australian and New Zealand authorities.
Kunlun was detained when trying to land its illegal catch in Phuket, Thailand in March . Songhua and Yongding were detained in May in Mindelo, Cape Vert. The Tiantai sank in Antarctic waters in March 2014.
“Strong political will is demonstrating that the EU’s IUU Regulation is a powerful tool in the fight to end illegal fishing,” said Rail Garcia of WWF.
“It must be fully implemented across all EU member states so no EU citizen can be engaged in illegal fishing activities at home or abroad, said Garcia. Globally, other key fishing and seafood market states must also strengthen their legal frameworks and collaborate with the EU to improve fisheries governance and put an end to illegal fishing,
From New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully hailed the action taken by Spain against those responsible for IUU fishing as giant step forward in the fight to protect the Southern Ocean.
“New Zealand strongly supports the Spanish Government's decision to bring a prosecution against Spanish fishing companies and associated IUU vessels, including the three found fishing in the Southern Ocean in January,” Mr McCully said in a brief statement.