The continued detentions of fishing vessels under Spanish and other EU flags by Norwegian patrols in Northeast Atlantic waters highlight the weakness of fishing regulations to take on the offenders and the lack of political willpower to put an end to these legal loopholes.
This year, the fishing vessels Arosa 9, Arosa 12 and Arosa 15 were detained by Norwegian patrol vessels and accused of illegal fishing. These cases add to the detention of the Garoya Segundo and the Monte Meixueiro, and the Lithuanian-flagged but Spanish-funded vessel Lootus. In 2004, the vessels Olaberri and Olalazar were also detained. All of these detentions have caused uneasiness in the Spanish government regarding the legal nuances that are currently being debated between the two countries. These discrepancies do not challenge the illegality of the activities of these vessels, but concern whether the Norwegian authorities had the competence to seize a vessel under a foreign flag.
Unfortunately, this debate between Spain and Norway creates the false impression that there were no reasons for these detentions. This could easily be remedied by having EU or Spanish inspectors participate in fishing control activities aboard the Norwegian patrol vessels.
This is the reason why Oceana calls for a monitoring system to be put in place at sea within the framework of the EU and the NEAFC (the convention which regulates fishing in the North East Atlantic), via an agreement with Norway.
This agreement should enable inspectors of both countries to jointly control the vessels conducting fishing activities in the North East Atlantic, as was done in the NAFO zone (North West Atlantic) between the EU and Canada.
“This way one could prevent the detainees, even when they are caught red-handed, from being converted from villains into heroes due to ‘legal weaknesses’ ”, declares Xavier Pastor, Director of Oceana in Europe.
The state of the fishing grounds in the North Atlantic is very worrying. Many fish stocks, such as cod, hake, megrim, etc. are overexploited or on the verge of collapsing. According to data in surveys released during this last year by the International Council for Exploration of the Sea (ICES), a scientific organisation which provides advice to both the EU and Norway, more than 50% of European fishing grounds should be closed or reduced to a minimum to avoid their collapse.
That makes illegal fishing, according to Oceana’s view, even more unacceptable, if that were even possible. Legal nuances cannot be allowed to generate obstacles or diplomatic problems that hinder the fight against offenders.
“The discussions between Norway and Spain only benefit those who conduct illegal fishing activities. The Spanish government has the means to solve the problem and to help end the deplorable attitude of illegal fishers. If not, it will encourage pirate fishing and that would affect legal fishers. Sanctions, whether imposed by Norway, the EU or Spain, must be exemplary and must send a clear message. Patriotically waving the Spanish flag or the flag of any other country cannot be a license to breach fishing regulations. If that were so, shipowners who comply with the law would be losing out and the entire national fleet would be discredited", afirms the director of Oceana in Europe, Xavier Pastor.