An EU coalition of three international NGOs, including Environmental Justice Foundation, Oceana and WWF has described it 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.
Maria Jose Cornax, Fisheries Campaign manager at Oceana, welcomed the announcement: “This is the highest known sanction and the first of its kind ever imposed in the European Union regarding IUU fishing.
"Today’s 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 any more by any EU national.”
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 analysed 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). Tiantai sank in Antarctic waters in March 2014.
The impact of the fines is particularly far reaching because it targets those who derive economic benefit from illegal fishing as well as those directly engaged in the activity.
Raúl Garcia of WWF said: “Strong political will is demonstrating that the EU’s IUU Regulation is a powerful tool in the fight to end illegal fishing.
"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. 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”.