3rd Dec 2020

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.

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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.

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