12th Apr 2021

EU spent at least €14m subsidising convicted fish crooks

  • Overfishing has been linked in the past to EU subsidies (Photo: EUobserver)

The European Union has spent at least €14 million in subsidies to firms convicted of illegal fishing, a new report has revealed.

Some 36 law-breaking vessel owners with 42 convictions between them received €13.5 million between 1994 and 2006 according to an investigation by, a group of researchers investigating the recipients of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

In a laborious nine-month investigation, the team matched up records of court convictions with lists of who receives EU fishing subsidies. The investigators warn however that this is only the tip of the iceberg, as they only looked at boats in the waters of two major fishing nations, Spain and France. They had attempted to investigate Italian fishing as well but it proved too difficult and time-consuming.

Additionally, data on convictions is very hard to obtain. Unlike data on fisheries subsidies, there is no official data that governments provide on convictions. Instead, the information was culled manually from government websites, newspaper reports and court records.

The full scale of funds going to vessels convicted of illegal fishing is likely to be larger than the team was able to uncover.

The companies have been convicted of serious infringements ranging from logbook misreporting to captures under the minimum size to use of illegal fishing gear and exceeding quotas.

Five of the vessels received more than €1 million each in EU subsidies.

Some of the boats on the list have been convicted multiple times and have been heavily fined.

In one example, in 2001, two vessels owned by a Spanish firm were found guilty of using illegal fishing gear and each boat was fined €35,000. The EU had financed the construction of the vessels to the tune of nearly €2 million between them. One boat then went on to receive a further EU grant for modernisation in 2006.

Earlier studies have shown how EU fisheries subsidies directly contribute to overfishing, but this is the first report that draws a link between fishing scofflaws and those who receive the European subsidies.

Currently, almost 80 percent of the world's fisheries, including those of Europe, are fully- to over-exploited, depleted, or in a state of collapse. About 90 percent of large predatory fish stocks are already gone.

Under EU law, there is no requirement to take criminal behaviour into account when deciding which vessels should get subsidies. 

EU blames member states

In response to the report, fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said she "takes these findings very seriously and will be looking into these types of problems" and has "a keen interest in improving the performance towards more sustainable fisheries."

The commission says that it is the member states that are responsible for distributing the funds within their fleets and that tackling links between subsidies and illegal fishing is up to them.

Britain in the past said it does not want to exclude fishermen from access to subsidies, as it feels that the fine imposed by a court is penalty enough.

Overfishing monitors say however that fishing corporations simply view such fines as part of the running costs of their operations.

The commission has raised the question of the allocation of funds to vessels convicted of such legal breaches as part of its ongoing review of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Kerry resets climate relations before Glasgow summit

John Kerry, the US special presidential envoy, was in Brussels to discuss how to tackle climate change with the European Commission. His appearance also marked a major shift in relations after the previous US administration under Donald Trump.

Commission: Pioneering Nordics' energy mix 'example' to EU

The Nordic electricity market is an example of successful market integration plus climate action, as the share of sustainable energy keeps growing, the European Commission said. However, the decarbonisation of the transport sector remains a challenge.


How Energy Treaty 'shadow' courts prolong EU's fossil age

The treaty enables companies to claim billions in compensation from states in front of international arbitration tribunals, if they feel unfairly treated by the states' energy or climate policies.


Adriatic Sea 'risks turning into a water desert'

The Adriatic Sea risks turning into a water desert, experts warn. Overfishing, bottom trawling, pollution, and climate change are seriously threatening the biodiversity of the Adriatic.

EU's 2021 fishing quotas to exceed scientific advice

EU minister for fisheries have agreed on fishing opportunities for 2021, with provisional quotas for the fish stocks shared with the UK. However, experts warned that some of these quotas will lead to overfishing "with detrimental effects on fish populations".

News in Brief

  1. Turkey blames EU for sexist protocol fiasco
  2. France to close elite civil-service academy
  3. Covid-19 cases in UK drop 60%, study finds
  4. White House urges 'calm' after Northern Ireland riots
  5. Italy's Draghi calls Turkey's Erdoğan a 'dictator'
  6. Slovakia told to return Sputnik V amid quality row
  7. EU risks €87bn in stranded fossil fuel assets
  8. Obligatory vaccination not against human rights, European court says

EU faces long wait for full vaccine supplies

The EU is still several months away from having enough vaccines to inoculate its 450 million people, with Pfizer and BioNTech, its principle suppliers, aiming for September for delivery targets.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersDigitalisation can help us pick up the green pace
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersCOVID19 is a wake-up call in the fight against antibiotic resistance
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region can and should play a leading role in Europe’s digital development
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Council to host EU webinars on energy, digitalisation and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAEU Code of Conduct can showcase PPPs delivering healthier more sustainable society
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersWomen benefit in the digitalised labour market

Latest News

  1. The Covid bell tolls for eastern Europe's populists
  2. Four deaths after taking Russian Sputnik V vaccine
  3. Post-Brexit riots flare up in Northern Ireland
  4. Advice on AstraZeneca varies across EU, amid blood clot fears
  5. Greenland election could see halt to rare-earth mining
  6. After 50 years, where do Roma rights stand now?
  7. Why Iran desperately wants a new nuclear deal
  8. Does new EU-ACP deal really 'decolonise' aid?

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us