Today, the European Court of Auditors (ECA) published a damning report on fisheries compliance by EU Member States. Auditors visited Spain, France, Italy and the UK (Scotland), which represent more than half of the EU fishing fleet and almost half of the total fish catches in the Union. The results reveal a lack of control in the Mediterranean Sea, where little effort is made to ensure compliance with fishing rules. Currently, 96% of the region’s fish stocks are overexploited by the EU fleet.
Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of Oceana in Europe released the following statement in response to the report: “The EU’s commitment to end overfishing by 2020 will never be achieved if Member States turn a blind eye to illegal fishing. The Mediterranean is heading for an environmental disaster: fish stocks are pushed to the limit while the few existing rules that are in place are systematically ignored by the fleet and not controlled enough by governments. Let’s call it as it is: rampant illegal fishing in lawless EU waters”.
The auditors found that the four Member States did not verify engine power. More engine power allows vessels to fish more and at deeper depths. At the time of the report, Italy and France had not yet performed the mandatory engine power checks on their fleet despite this being legal requirement under the Control Regulation since 2012.
Additionally, Member States exempted vessels in the Mediterranean that are between 12–15 metres in length from satellite monitoring if they fish in national waters and stay at sea for less than 24 hours. Such oversight has led to 79% of the vessels in this category operating under the radar, which represents a major flaw in effective fishing control and monitoring.
Major discrepancies in catch data
The report also highlights significant differences between the overall catches recorded by the Member States and the catch data available from the European Commission. For Italy, there is a 72% difference in the catches recorded nationally compared to the data published by the European Commission. This is mostly due to missing data on catches from vessels under 10 metres.
“The European Court of Auditors' report confirms what we have been saying for years: control efforts need to be stepped up in order to efficiently implement the Common Fisheries Policy and stop overfishing. Without real and efficient control and enforcement, our fisheries will be nothing more than a pile of bureaucratic papers for fishless seas,” added Gustavsson.