A report from Dutch fisheries authority NVWA claims rampant fraud is universal in the national fisheries. Photo: NVWA
The fishing industry in the Netherlands has been hit with a damning report from the Dutch Food and Consumer Product safety Authority (NVWA), who also operate fisheries controls for the country.
In a report submitted by the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries to the House of Representatives, called “De visketen in beeld”(Fish Chain in Pictures), the Dutch fisheries sector is described as “a fairly closed world in which fraudsters seem to feel little inconvenienced”, and the sector continues to struggle with a “deep-rooted corporate culture” in which “some individuals and companies are persistently breaking the rules”.
The NVWA writes in the report that it has been unable to take effective action against the “persistent and recurring signals” of fraud in the sector for years and calls on the cabinet to come up with a ‘new impulse’ for tackling fraud in the fish chain.
The fisheries regulator claims that there should be tougher penalties as examples; the chance of administrative and criminal prosecution should be greater, illegally obtained profits should be taken more often and the government should take away fishing licenses or subsidies more quickly. They say policy is needed to increase the willingness to comply because the NVWA cannot do enough in this situation. Laws and regulations to prevent overfishing are systematically and repeatedly violated by some of the fishing companies. According to the NVWA, the sector itself must also do more to prevent fraud.
The report also says, “There are fisheries companies that cause too much damage to nature in general and to nature reserves in particular. The NVWA asks the Ministry of LNV to take measures that increase enforceability in order to be able to monitor more effectively. The policy and legislation for closed areas and Natura 2000 sites is insufficiently enforceable. The main reasons are that the requirements of the various closed areas and the Natura 2000 areas are not unambiguous, that the business community has not complied with the agreements of self-monitoring, and that the NVWA cannot base its supervision on the application of fraud-proof ‘black boxes’ to fishing vessels.”
The Cabinet is set to provide a response to the NVWA’s findings at the beginning of October. Until then, the Ministry of LNV cannot make a comment on the issue, a spokesperson told Pledge Times.
On Monday 26 September, the European Court of Auditors also published a report showing that most European countries are doing too little to prevent illegal fishing. The European Commission tapped the Netherlands on the fingers because it did too little to prevent fraud in the weighing of fish catches.
In the past five years, the NVWA handed out 280 fines to Dutch fishermen, including for illegally catching fish species subject to a quota. In 34 cases, a signal of possible fraud led to a criminal investigation by the judicial authorities. But these figures “show only the lower limit,” warns the NVWA: the real extent of the fish fraud is difficult to determine “because these activities are kept out of the government’s view as much as possible.”
According to the regulator, Dutch fishermen are guilty of all kinds of fraud. For example, some of the companies are violating ‘systematically and on several levels’ the legislation aimed at preventing overfishing, for example by not registering part of the catch. According to the NVWA, this is “frequently the case.” Fish caught in excess of the permitted amount is often marketed as black: “Continuing signals indicate that shipping companies, sorting companies, (intermediaries) traders and transporters in varying compositions are working together to get rid of black fish,” writes the regulator.
The report claims that fishermen also cheat with the engine power of their boat. By using engines with more power than allowed, they can use larger nets and thus catch more. According to the NVWA, checks on engine power are easy to circumvent. Also, some fishermen use nets with smaller mesh sizes than allowed and some use a double bag technique, resulting in an unnecessarily large bycatch of young, undersized fish. According to the NVWA, the companies process some of this illegally in fish products that end up with the consumer.
Traders also sometimes add illegal additives to the fish. For example, protein and phosphate can increase the weight of plaice fillet, making it more profitable. Tuna gets a fresh red color by adding carbon monoxide or plant extracts.
According to the NVWA, the many cheating among Dutch fishermen is because the sector is under great pressure. Many companies are experiencing financial difficulties due to, among other things, the ban on pulse fishing, Brexit and the corona pandemic. According to the NVWA, the financial gain from fraud can amount to half a million euros per company per year. Some of the fishermen are even susceptible to organised crime and are involved in drug smuggling.