The fine, 57 million euros, will be repeated every six months until France fulfils her obligations.
Oceana has voiced its satisfaction at the exemplary decision taken by the European Commission to fine the French government 57 million euros for having allowed the capture and commercialisation of hake of a smaller size than legally permitted.
In many European markets, the commercialisation of undersized hake has become standard practice, despite the fact that it is banned by European legislation. In Spain it is also common to find hake smaller than the legally permitted size, which is usually known as carioca and refers to hake of barely 10-20 centimetres, which is very much below the size at which this species starts reproducing. The Spanish government, therefore, could well be the next target of the European Commission. Other European countries could also be subject to similar sanctions.
The stock of southern hake, which encompasses the fish from this species found from the coasts of the Iberian Peninsula to the south coast of the United Kingdom and Ireland, including the Cantabrian Sea and the Bay of Biscay, is generally caught by fleets from France and Spain.
For the last three years, scientists from the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) have recommended the closure of this fishery due to the poor state of its stock, caused mainly by the abusive fishing practice of catching sub-adult fish.
“It is very gratifying to see that the European Commission is putting into effect the mechanisms to ensure compliance with fisheries legislation,” stated oceanographer Xavier Pastor, the director of Oceana in Europe. “Offenders must understand that the time for their impunity is coming to an end and that the dramatic state of fisheries resources can no longer allow illegal or underhand practices”.
Hake is caught by various different fishing methods, such as deep-sea longlining, fixed nets or bottom trawling. Of all these, bottom trawling is the method that catches the largest amount of immature fish, which on occasions can represent up to 70% of catches, seriously endangering hake populations. For this reason, catches of southern hake have gone from the 15-25,000 tonnes that used to be caught during the Nineties to the barely 5,000 tonnes caught nowadays.
The minimum size established by the European Union for this species in the Atlantic and the Cantabrian Sea is 27 cm. In Oceana’s opinion, even by observing this size the species will still be endangered, as the majority of hake do not reach reproductive age until they are over 34-37 centimetres long.
For this reason, Oceana is calling on the EU to modify its legislation and increase the minimum size for this species.