30th Nov 2022

EU fight on illegal fishing must move from paper to online

  • Misreporting catches is most common infringement by the EU fleet (Photo: Fredrik Ohlander)
Listen to article

Europe should put in place an electronic EU-wide database of catch certificates to better track illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing from third countries, auditors said in a report on Monday (26 September).

The current paper-based system is problematic because "the lack of digitalisation makes it not only inefficient, but it also creates a higher risk of fraud," said Eva Lindström, who is leading the audit.

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

Following demands from some member states, industry groups and civil society, the European Commission put forward a common IT system called 'CATCH' in 2019 to automate controls and cross-check, in real-time, on a voluntary basis.

But no member state is actually using it.

The Commission has proposed to make CATCH mandatory, under the revision of the fisheries control system. But its pending implementation will not be immediate, meaning member states will not be obliged to have this system in place for several years.

By comparison, some non-EU countries such as Norway, the USA and the UK validate and process catch certificates electronically.

The EU pledged to end illegal fishing by 2020, but failed to meet this target — and there is still the risk that fish caught in an illegal way are sold on the single market, auditors said.

EU countries are in charge of carrying out checks on national fleets and controlling fisheries activities in their national waters, but overfishing and misreporting of catches remain a major issue in the EU.

"These checks are useful, but [...] non-compliance remains an issue," said Lindström.

According to the report, misreporting of catches is the most reported infringement by the EU fleet, followed by fishing in closed areas or with no quota allocation, and using illegal gear.

Fishing vessels must report all catches of certain species for which the vessel has quotas. But on many occasions, fishermen throw back unwanted catches at sea due to low commercial value or may be subject to a quota.

Most discarded fish do not survive, and such actions cannot easily be detected, making enforcement challenging for national authorities.

Between 2015 and 2021, the commission launched 11 infringement procedures against eight member states for failing to apply effective measures to fight illegal fishing.

Serious infringements detected by EU countries led to an investigation or prosecution in most of the cases, but EU auditors have urged the commission to harmonise the penalty system.

Very variable fines

They said the average fine imposed for a similar infringement varied among member states, ranging from around €200 in Cyprus, Lithuania, and Estonia to more than €7,000 in Spain.

As the world's largest importer of fisheries products, the EU's fight against illegal fishing also depends on third countries.

When the legality of products coming from third countries cannot be guaranteed, the EU can issue a yellow card warning a country or a red card to ban imports from that country.

So far, the bloc has issued yellow cards to 21 countries, including Thailand in 2015 and Vietnam in 2017, and a red card to six countries such as Cambodia or Comoros.

While the system has triggered important reforms in some countries, trade volumes between the EU and half of the countries carded are minimal, the auditors noted.


How EU Green Deal fosters overfishing in West Africa

The fishmeal industry in recent years has been growing fast in West Africa, in Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal and the Gambia. But that creates problems, with a proliferation of fishmeal factories leading to a "serious overfishing situation."


Asbestos — two to three times more deadly than known

Where once working men in heavy industry were diagnosed with cancers related to a more direct exposure to asbestos, now women in professions such as teaching, nursing and other occupations are being diagnosed, as well as young people.

News in Brief

  1. 'Pro-Kremlin group' in EU Parliament cyberattack
  2. Ukraine will decide on any peace talks, Borrell says
  3. Germany blocks sale of chip factory to Chinese subsidiary
  4. Strikes and protests over cost-of-living grip Greece, Belgium
  5. Liberal MEPs want Musk quizzed in parliament
  6. Bulgarian policeman shot dead at Turkish border
  7. 89 people allowed to disembark in Italy, aid group says
  8. UN chief tells world: Cooperate on climate or perish

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersCOP27: Food systems transformation for climate action
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersThe Nordic Region and the African Union urge the COP27 to talk about gender equality
  3. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  4. Friedrich Naumann Foundation European DialogueGender x Geopolitics: Shaping an Inclusive Foreign Security Policy for Europe
  5. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos

Latest News

  1. EU Commission proposes suspending billions to Hungary
  2. EU: Russian assets to be returned in case of peace treaty
  3. Frontex leadership candidates grilled by MEPs
  4. Portugal was poised to scrap 'Golden Visas' - why didn't it?
  5. Why the EU asbestos directive revision ... needs revising
  6. Nato renews membership vow to Ukraine
  7. Catalan spyware victims demand justice
  8. Is the overwhelming critique of Qatar hypocritical?

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Committee of the RegionsRe-Watch EURegions Week 2022
  2. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  4. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  6. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us