Operation Sparrow: Catching Pirates in Antarctica

Date: September 21, 2015

Source: Huffington Post
Author: Javier Garat, Secretary General of Cepesca (Spanish Confederation of Fisheries) and President of Europêche (Association of National Organizations of Fishing Enterprises in the EU)

The European Union is leading the world in the fight against illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, with its trailblazing 2010 IUU Regulation. If SDG target 14.2, which includes the pledge to end IUU fishing globally by 2020, is to be met, not only must EU Member States step up and fully implement the Regulation, but the rest of the world has some rapid catching up to do.

Fortunately, as the EU is the biggest seafood market in the world, the positive impact of its IUU Regulation already extends far beyond its own waters and national fishing fleets. Also fortunately, Spain, the EU’s largest single fishing nation, is leading the pack of Member States in terms of real interventions on the water to stop illegal fishing.

The EU’s IUU Regulation is the strongest in the world. It mandates all EU states to take action against any of their citizens, vessels or companies taking part in IUU fishing anywhere in the world, and aims to completely shut out all imports of illegal fish into the EU market.

Spain leading the EU

Spain is the EU’s biggest importer and exporter of fish, it represents 20 percent of Europe’s fishing capacity, and it employs more people in its fishing sector than any other EU state. We are therefore proud to be leading the way in the implementation of the IUU Regulation, not least because it benefits our own fishermen and fishing industry to eliminate unfair competition from illegally caught fish.

At the end of 2014, Spain amended its fisheries law in order to enshrine the IUU Regulation into its national legislation. The law now allows the government to take action against Spanish nationals or companies taking part in illegal-fishing operations anywhere in the world — including those connected to vessels operating under “flags of convenience” or owned by “shell” companies in tax havens. With this modification, Spain can impose stronger penalties on its citizens found to be involved with pirate fishing than any other country. It reinforces our firm commitment to fighting the plague of illegal fishing, and all the human rights and environmental abuses linked to it.

Operation Sparrow: putting Spain’s new law to the test

The detection of four vessels suspected of illegally poaching Patagonian toothfish in Antarctic waters earlier this year is providing Spain an ideal opportunity to put its new law into immediate effect. “Operation Sparrow” is investigating Spanish fishing companies suspected of having links with pirate fishing. A raid on the company offices, and analysis of more than 3,000 documents, found clear evidence that these companies are behind the pirate vessels. The government has stated that the penalties inflicted on the companies could exceed €11 million, higher than has ever been imposed by an EU government for illegal fishing. Such a heavy fine represents a historic turning point, and a serious disincentive to others engaging in or profiting from illegal fishing, whether at home or abroad. These actions led to another promising raid on a second set of companies, demonstrating the strong commitment of Spain to prosecute every national engaged in this scourge.

Spanish authorities are dedicated to stopping and checking every consignment of fish entering the national market. This involves inspecting hundreds of vessels, verifying more than 50,000 catch certificates a year, and detecting more infringements than any other member state. As a result, there are fewer and fewer places where pirate fishers can hide, or sell their goods.

Spain investing in the global fight

Spain’s strong political will is also leading us to support initiatives at the global level, and in regions where illegal fishing is a particular problem. For example, Spain is contributing €250,000 to FAO’s scheme to establish a Global Record of fishing vessels. This promises to be a key tool in the global fight against IUU fishing by providing a central database on vessels, regardless of whether they change names, flags or identification markings — all means used to avoid detection.

Cepesca, the Spanish Fishing Confederation, has also signed a protocol with the national administration resulting in its tuna-fishing fleet flagged to third countries being voluntarily subjected to the same control measures as Spanish-flagged vessels, including having a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), electronic logbooks and validation of fishing licenses in coastal States.

The battle against illegal fishing requires genuine political will, commitment and investment, but it is one worth fighting, and one that the world must win. To achieve SDG 14’s target to end IUU fishing by 2020, every fishing nation must mobilize and cooperate to close the net once and for all on the unscrupulous, criminal fishers that are a blight on the fishing industry, and a barrier to a healthy ocean for all. The EU, and Spain in particular, is committed to doing just that.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, “What’s Working: Sustainable Development Goals,” in conjunction with the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The proposed set of milestones will be the subject of discussion at the UN General Assembly meeting on Sept. 25-27, 2015 in New York. The goals, which will replace the UN’s Millennium Development Goals(2000-2015), cover 17 key areas of development — including poverty, hunger, health, education, and gender equality, among many others. As part of The Huffington Post’s commitment to solutions-oriented journalism, this What’s Working SDG blog series will focus on one goal every weekday in September. This post addresses Goal 14.

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