New analysis of Spain’s implementation of the EU IUU Reg provides valuable lessons for the European Commission and other Member States

Date: June 13, 2017

Author & Source: Environmental Justice Foundation

Today, EJF and its partners* have published their analysis of implementation of the EU IUU Regulation by one of the key fishing countries in the EU – Spain. It highlights a number of meaningful achievements to date, both in the sphere of import controls to prevent illegally caught seafood entering the Spanish market, and action against Spanish nationals for engaging in pirate fishing.

The case study provides valuable lessons for the European Commission and other Member States as they grapple with the challenges of implementing this groundbreaking piece of legislation to end IUU fishing worldwide. IUU fishing is recognised as a major threat to global food security and marine health.

Spain is one of the main actors in the EU and global fishing industry:

  • As a market and processing State, Spain is the top fisheries importer in Europe, each year importing an average of 860,000 tonnes of fisheries products falling within the scope of the EU IUU Regulation.
  • As a flag State, it accounts for the majority of the EU distant water fleet (230 vessels, representing 59% of the gross tonnage), as well as for most of the European joint ventures in third countries (operating more than 320 vessels distributed across 24 countries in 2015).
  • As a port State, it hosts key strategic fishing ports (namely Vigo and Las Palmas), as well as some of the EU’s busiest container ports (Valencia and Algeciras) through which significant volumes of seafood are traded.

The case study analyses the role of Spain with regard to two of the key pillars of the EU IUU Regulation – the control of seafood imports and measures against nationals involved in IUU fishing. Here are some of the findings:

Control of seafood imports

Spain has introduced comprehensive procedures to implement the EU’s catch certificate (CC) scheme. Every CC received is checked rigorously for potential irregularities, with over 20 IUU-risk criteria applied in each case. Through this process, high-risk CCs are selected to undergo a verification process, which usually involves contacting the flag State of the fishing vessel and requesting information to assess legality such as VMS and logbook data. Spain also carries out random verifications as an additional means of building its risk-based approach.

The effectiveness of this system resulted in 121 rejected seafood consignments between 2010 and 2015. This equated to 35% of total rejections in the EU, yet Spain received just 20% of total CCs for imports. Two key features make this system possible – the allocation of sufficient human and financial resources, and a robust IT system that integrates alarms and risk factors and allows for data analysis.

Measures against nationals

Spain amended its fisheries law in 2014 to allow action to be taken against Spanish citizens and companies involved in or benefitting from IUU fishing anywhere in the world, regardless of the vessel’s flag (Spanish or otherwise).

The law has already been applied in three operations – Sparrow I, Sparrow II and Banderas. Sparrow I resulted in fines of almost €18 million; Sparrow II, in fines of over €5 million. The third operation, Banderas, retained two vessels in the port of Vigo subject to bonds of over €1 million, which have not yet been paid.

The successful outcomes of these operations may be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the amendment to Spain’s fisheries law considerably increased the sanctions for IUU fishing activities to ensure deterrence. Secondly, these deterrent fines are accompanied by the long-term revocation of fishing authorisations and a ban on access to public funds. Thirdly, and fundamental to the success of Sparrow I, are international cooperation and wide powers of investigation granted to the competent authorities.

These successes from Spain show that the EU IUU Regulation can make a significant contribution to tackling illegal fishing worldwide. However, to achieve its full potential, Member States must implement the Regulation in an effective and harmonized manner.

EJF and its partners would encourage other Member States, the European Commission and other non-EU actors to consider lessons from Spain when it comes to combatting pirate fishing, and to benefit from regional and international cooperation in this matter. IUU fishing is a problem of global nature, and as such, it needs to be tackled through unity.

You can read our factsheet here (English | Spanish)

* EJF is working in a coalition of non-governmental organisations to secure the harmonised and effective implementation of the European Union’s Regulation to prevent, deter and eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. 


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