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31st Mar 2020

EU signals 'zero tolerance' against illegal fishing

The European Union has said a new system of fisheries control is finally in place, an attempt to stamp out the illegal fishing which contributes to the fragile nature of the bloc's fish stocks.

Common inspection rules and a new points system to punish boats who fish illegally are among the key measures in the package, detailed by the European Commission in Brussels on Tuesday (12 April).

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  • The new rules are designed to make it harder for unscrupulous crews to land illegal catches (Photo: Irish Presidency)

Under the points system, which will enter into force on 1 January 2012, repeat offenders will see their licenses withdrawn.

Member states police their own waters under the EU's common fisheries policy, with critics saying the former system of fragmented rules was applied with varying degrees of rigour, making it harder for honest fishermen.

The commission now hopes that electronic tracking of all fisheries-related data and automatic cross-checking will make it much harder for crews to profit from illegal landings.

"If we can't enforce our own rules, this undermines the credibility of the whole common fisheries policy, no matter how sound it may be," fisheries commissioner Maria Damanaki said.

"We now have a comprehensive system of control and enforcement and I expect compliance with EU fishing rules to improve from now on. We can no longer allow even a small minority of fishermen to ignore the rules, and get away with it," added the Greek politician.

The commission claims the new system will allow for control 'from net to plate', by covering all stages of the supply chain.

Roughly two-thirds of Europe's fish stocks are overfished, with species like the Mediterranean bluefin tuna on the brink of collapse. Previous reforms of the EU's common fisheries policy have failed to sufficiently align fishing capacity with stock numbers, with growing pressure to radically improve the situation during next year's overhaul.

At the same time, politicians from fishing constituencies have been loath to completely cut off the EU's roughly 140,000 fishermen, leading the Union to negotiate a number of bilateral fishing agreements with non-EU countries.

A decision on whether to renew the EU's controversial accord with Morocco is currently under discussion, with human rights groups opposing the move due to Rabat's annexation of the Western Sahara region to its south, together with its rich fishing grounds.

Rough thirty percent of fish caught by EU-flagged boats now comes from outside the bloc's waters, with the stricter implementing rules detailed on Tuesday also applying to these vessels fishing further afield.

Greenpeace welcomed the commission's announcement. "The reckless disregard for rules and scientific advice by too many officials favours companies that cheat and cut corners," said the group's EU oceans policy director Saskia Richartz.

"The Commission is right to focus on enforcement, but effective rules are just as important. The forthcoming reform of European fisheries must deliver a new rulebook that protects our oceans and ensures the sustainability of fishing." she added.

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