Spanish mackerel fleet penalised for quota-busting
March 01 2011 Lewis Smith
Spain has been handed a humiliating cut in the number of mackerel it can catch after being found guilty of quota-busting.
The penalty was imposed by the European Commission after it found Spanish fishermen had landed almost twice as much mackerel from the Cantabrian Sea, in the southern part of the Bay of Biscay, as they were allowed.
The Commission was said to be furious at the extent of the overfishing by Spanish fishermen who had been allowed to catch 24,604 tonnes of mackerel in the Cantabrian Sea last year but ended up catching close to 45,000 tonnes.
European Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki was understood to be personally concerned at the level of overfishing. She has repeatedly maintained that the rules must be obeyed if Europe has any chance of fishing sustainably.
Spanish fishermen have now been told they must “pay back” twice the quantity that they were found to have overfished.
And they were warned that they face the possibility of further penalties after the Commission revealed it is investigating suspected quota-busting for the 2009 catch.
The Spanish fishing fleet reported catching 24,587 tonnes in 2009 in the Cantabrian Sea, just under the 25,525 tonnes quota, but the Commission said it had information suggesting this may have been exceeded.
Spain was, however, allowed to spread the 40,000 tonnes of lost quota over five years because the Commission felt it would be unfair on honest operators who kept within the rules if a shorter timescale was imposed. Mackerel stocks in the region are considered to be healthy.
A spokesman said as the penalty was announced: “The Commission has established that Spain overfished its 2010 quota for mackerel in the Cantabrian Sea by almost 20,000 tonnes, equivalent to some 80 per cent of the quota. Spain is obliged to payback twice the amount it has overfished over the next five years (2011-15).
“The Commission's decision was based on extensive investigations, starting with cross-checking of official declarations by Spain, and including audits, verification missions and inspections on the ground.”
Commission officials, in their ruling, found that measures designed to regulate the fishery, such as organising inspections, were poor and confused.
There was poor co-ordination between regional and central authorities, and problems with the control of landings and the declarartions made by masters of fishing vessels. Monitoring will be carried out in the coming months to ensure the Spanish authorities improve their performance.
Quota paybacks have been ordered previously on a handful of occasions. Most recently, the French tuna fleet in the Mediterranean had its 2011 quota slashed for overfishing.
The UK and Ireland were penalised for herring and mackerel overfishing in the North Sea and the Poles were punished for overfishing cod in the Baltic Sea.
Willie MacKenzie, of Greenpeace, said: “It’s almost unbelievable that any national authority could preside over such blatant overfishing, but sadly it’s just a sign of how broken European fishing regulations are,” he said.
“The Spanish fishing industry is already the target of vitriol from the rest of Europe for too much fishing, and too few regulations, yet insanely it receives the highest amount of EU fisheries subsidies. The rampant overfishing of mackerel, a species so commonly understood as a ‘sustainable’ option, further damages Spain’s shoddy reputation in Europe’s shared seas.
“UK citizens will be justifiably outraged that their taxes are still being used to subsidise the Spanish fishing industry, when the Spanish authorities seem so woefully inadequate are controlling their fleets.”
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