ShapeShapeauthorShapecrossShapeShapeShapeGrouphamburgerhomeGroupmagnifyShapeShapeShapeShape

Low, Infrequent Fines Are Underminding Work to End Illegal Fishing, says ClentEarth

Lucy Towers
06 January 2017, at 12:00am

EU - A new report from ClientEarth, focusing on England, the Republic of Ireland, France and Poland, shows that the control legislation underpinning the CommonFisheries Policy has been implemented late, badly, or sometimes not at all. Fines for illegal fishing are infrequent and, when they are given, they are very low, therefore undermining efforts to end overfishing.

ClientEarth lawyer Elisabeth Druel said: “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 hugely. In England and France, almost 20 per cent of boats inspected at sea were breaching the law, while the number in Ireland and Poland was 3.2 per cent and 2.6 per cent 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 per cent 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.

Last year, Ireland found a Danish vessel guilty of fishing without 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 among 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 the ocean and the industries that depend on them.