eNGOs have called on the EU Commission for an investigation into the Dutch pelagic fishing sector including the Margiris Bay of Biscay incident
The EU Commission has been asked to investigate the Netherlands over serious breaches in its pelagic fishing industry.
Several environmental non-government organisations, including Client Earth, Bloom, the DMA, Oceana, Environmental Justice Foundation, Our Fish and the Low Impact Fisheries of Europe (LIFE) has sent a letter to the EU Commissioner for the Environment, Oceans and Fisheries, Virginijus Sinkevius asking the Commission to launch an administrative inquiry into fisheries catch data in the Netherlands in accordance with Article 102.2 of the EU Fisheries Control Regulation 1224/2009.
The group of eNGOs in the joint letter write that the effectiveness of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), “depends on the willingness and ability of Member States to ensure strict and reliable accounting of fish catches.
The group claim that there are persistent, serious and systematic deficiencies in the Dutch fisheries control system.
Recently the Commission delivered a reasoned opinion to the Netherlands about serious breaches of the EU Fisheries Control Regulation. They group say, “The fact that the Commission has brought other infringements against the Netherlands for cetacean bycatch and the landing obligation demonstrates that the problems related to control and enforcement in the Netherlands are systemic and very serious.
The eNGOs say that there is an urgent demand on the Commission to request and administrative inquiry in the Netherlands.
They say, “Based on all the information in our possession, pelagic freezer trawlers routinely land in Dutch ports and the figures used to complete landing declarations and sales notes have been based on unverified estimates provided by the operators. This presents a glaring risk of systematic overfishing and potentially massive underreporting of many thousands of tonnes of pelagic catches over decades by vessels that land and sell their catches in the Netherlands, from where some of the landings are likely exported to other EU Member States.
“Furthermore, in terms of accounting for catches, including quantities discarded, it is normally incumbent on Member States to evaluate last haul reports and compare the data in them with logbook entries, to account for undocumented fishing mortality. Controls at sea need to be coordinated with controls on land. Logbook entries and last haul reports may differ by a factor of 30 to 50. This needs to be controlled. In this era of modern law enforcement technologies, to which all citizens are routinely subjected, it is unacceptable that Union fishing vessels’ fishing activities at sea are exempt from effective CCTV electronic control tools. Such measures would ensure enforcement and accountability for the discard ban, cetacean bycatch and many other forms of illegal fishing behaviour.
“The recent event of the massive allegedly illegal discarding of Blue Whiting involving the Lithuanian trawler FV Margiris, under Dutch beneficiary interest, detected thanks to the work of an international organisation and widely reported in the international press, is a further demonstration of the crucial and urgent need to control these vessels more intensively at sea and upon landing.
“We urgently call on the Commission to instruct the Netherlands to act on the irregularities described above by conducting an administrative inquiry in accordance with Article 102.2 of the Control Regulation, in order to determine the actual quantities landed by Dutch-owned pelagic freezer trawlers in the Netherlands and elsewhere since 2010. This is the only way to remedy the situation, while also shedding full light on the extent of the fraud which has presumably been taking place over several years. The Commission does not have the resources to do this itself, nor do civil society organisations like ours. Only the Dutch authorities have the capacity and the mandate – and, we maintain, the obligation – to get to the bottom of this.”
As a precedent, the Commission triggered a similar inquiry in Ireland following irregularities detected by the Commission in relation to the weighing and registration of landings of small pelagic catches.
“We believe such an inquiry is necessary for a level playing field among fishers and to ensure the equal treatment of Member States. It is also essential to curb the continued overfishing of our pelagic stocks and to make potential quota payback and the necessary deductions from future fishing opportunities to redress previous overfishing. Such an administrative inquiry should also investigate the actual quantities landed and sold by Dutch owned vessels operating and landing in third countries. The fishing opportunities available to Union fishing vessels operating in third-country waters under the provisions of sustainable fishing partnership agreements, for example, are funded by European taxpayers who are entitled to greater transparency concerning European Union operators in the context of the international fight against IUU fishing.”
The group claims there is an imperative need for fair treatment of all Member States and fishers in Europe to achieve a “culture of compliance”.
“This administrative inquiry would send a positive message to all Member States seriously engaged in the fight against IUU fishing. It would also ensure the equal treatment of Member States such as Spain or Ireland, which are facing long-standing quota paybacks for small pelagic species. It would likewise demonstrate to the international community the European Commission’s strong commitment to eradicating IUU fishing practices endemic within the Union and the Commission’s determination to give effect to the principles set out in the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies.”