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31st Oct 2020

France gets record fine for ignoring EU fishing rules

  • People always point the finger at France, said the spokesman of the French fishermen's organisation (Photo: Commission)

The European Court of Justice has fined France €20 million for allowing fishermen to catch and sell fish that are smaller than what is allowed under EU regulations.

In addition France must pay €57.8 million every six months until it complies with Brussels’ rules, the Luxembourg court ruled on Tuesday (12 July).

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The size of the fine is unprecedented in comparison with earlier rulings. It is also the first time the Court orders a member state to pay both a periodic penalty payment and a lump sum fine.

In 1991 the Court had already found that France had infringed Community law by not carrying out controls ensuring compliance with Community measures for fishery conservation.

During inspections of French ports 11 years later, the Commission found that France was still not complying fully with its obligations. Undersized fish were offered for sale and Paris had maintained a lax attitude to infringements.

The Commission asked the Court of Justice for a declaration that France had failed to fulfil its obligation to comply with the 1991 judgment.

A warning

The European Commission said after Tuesday's ruling that the record high fine of €20 million for a member state should serve as a warning to other countries.

"Today’s court ruling sends a strong signal to Member States that may be tempted to persistently ignore Community law that they have to be prepared to pay a heavy price to do so", the Commission said in a press release.

The record fine did not hit headlines in the French media but France's National Fisheries Committee (CNPMEM) reacted angrily.

"Tonnes upon tonnes of small fish are unloaded in Spain and Portugal. There is fishing over and above the quotas in Scotland, Britain and elsewhere, and you never hear anything about it. People always point the finger at France", Pierre-Georges Dachicourt said on behalf of the organisation, according to France Info radio.

The French government took note of the ECJ’s decision and said in a statement it intended to respect EU rules.

There are currently 81 fishery infringement procedures pending against Member States for failings to enforceme common fishery policy rules. Sixty one of them relate to over fishing, according to the Commission.

In comparison to the size of the French fine, Spain was fined 624,105 euro annually in 2003 over dirty bathing water and in 2000 Greece was fined €5.4m for toxic waste violations.

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