EU takes bold new action on illegal fishing

Spanish officials today seized over £4 million worth of illegally caught fish landed in the Canary Islands. It is thought the move is the start of a new EU scheme to prevent to deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing after new regulations were introduced last year. The fish seized, weighing over 1100 tonnes, were destined for sale in Europe.

Illegal fishing of the coast of West Africa is a serious problem for local people, who rely on fishing for employment and as a source of protein. EU officials estimate that Sierra Leone loses around $29 million per year as a result of illegal fishing. Declines in fish stocks can increase pressure on other natural resources such as bush meat. Environmental Justice Foundation, the organisation to which the illegal fishing was first reported, said that the EU needs to take more responsibility for policing it’s waters. Among the species illegally caught were octopus, squid, sole, shrimp, and grouper some of which are known to be endangered or have depleted stocks.

Three boats involved in the illegal fishing, owned by South Korea, Panama, and China, were apprehended in the port of Las Palmas. Fish were taken from waters off the coast of Sierra Leone which are reserved for use by local fishermen under international fishing agreements. Other allegations were also made against the vessels, including use of child labour, damage to the local fishermen’s equipment, and even assault. EU officials noted that illegal fishing often goes hand in hand with other criminal activities.

This move is the most drastic action the European Union has ever taken on illegal fishing and a second strike is planned for later this year. Europe is currently investigating the activities of over 70 vessels from both member states and other countries. If vessels are found to be involved in illegal fishing they can be banned from landing fish in any European port, excluding them from the world’s biggest market for fish. Europe is also demanding answers from the Panamanian authorities who provided certificates to show that the fish landed were caught within international fishing agreements which protect certain areas for use by local fishermen.

See Fish worth £4m seized in EU crackdown on illegal fishing by Robert Booth for more information.