03 October 2011

Exposed: organised crime at sea

THE International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) and Greenpeace have released the results of investigations into alleged malpractice in the Spanish fishing industry.
The ICIJ investigation claims that the Spanish fishing industry has received more than €5.8 billion in subsidies since 2000 to expand its capacity and global reach, but that public fortune supports a fleet with an extensive record of flouting rules and breaking the law.
Meanwhile Greenpeace say they have revealed how Spain, by far the most influential nation in the formulation of Europe’s Common Fisheries Policy, is repeatedly and systematically overlooking illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing by its huge fleet throughout European waters and beyond.
The probe into the Spanish fishing industry by the ICIJ is the latest instalment of Looting the Seas, an ongoing investigation into ‘the forces that are rapidly depleting ocean resources’.
The ICIJ says that while European Union officials scramble in a last-ditch effort to save what are left of declining fish stocks, a look at the Spanish fleet – the region’s most powerful player – shows what they are up against.
“Fish are not an unlimited resource,” said fisheries economist Andrew Dyck of University of British Columbia. “When the public purse is the only thing propping this industry up, we are paying for resource degradation.”
ICIJ says its analysis is the first in-depth look at how much public aid Spain has received, primarily from the EU, but also from the national and regional governments.
“Subsidies keep the Spanish industry afloat. They account for a third of the sector’s value. Simply put, nearly one-in-three fish caught on a hook or raised in a farm is paid for with public money,” the ICIJ claims.
Among the findings of the ICIJ study are:
  • One Spanish ship owner received more than €8.2 million in subsidies while his company or its affiliates faced more than 40 accusations of alleged illegal fishing and US$5 million in fines.
  • The Spanish fishing industry cornered a third of all subsidies granted to EU fisheries since 2000 – far more than that of any other EU country. Public aid has been used to modernize ships, buy fishing rights to the waters of developing countries, and even pay for private security aboard vessels and for advertising and promotion.
  • Tax breaks account for a big chunk of aid. The Spanish industry has benefited from €2 billion in fuel tax exemptions since 2000.
  • More than 80 percent of subsidized fishing companies that were fined in Spain for infractions such as fishing in a prohibited area and targeting juvenile fish– and then lost subsequent court appeals – continued to receive subsidies.
In a new report titled ‘Ocean Inquirer’ by Greenpeace, the campaigning organisation takes as a case study one Galician family whose companies have received over €16 million in subsidies from European taxpayers to fund a long list of criminal activities. 

Greenpeace say: “The Vidal family’s many ships have been found conducting IUU fishing for decades, right around the world, and been prosecuted in the US, the UK and in the Pacific and the Spanish government have promised on numerous occasions to investigate and put an end to these abuses. But what they have actually done is fund them - with our money. 

“Spain has the largest fishing fleet in Europe, maintained with billions in subsidies - more than double the amount of subsidies received by any other EU nation. The Spanish fleet has exploited the CFP to infiltrate the fleets of other European nations and take their fishing quotas, and it is widely recognised that without a proper investigation and reform of the Spanish industry, a CFP which actually fulfils its purpose of managing Europe’s fishing industry in a sustainable manner is highly unlikely.
“The case study of the Vidal family documents their long history of illegal fishing, their prosecutions and convictions and their frequently successful attempts to avoid justice, and Spain’s continuing failure to deal with an issue which has been raised with them on numerous occasions. It also reveals new evidence on Vidal’s latest business venture, an alleged fish oil factory in Galicia. This factory is not currently operational, many months after its claimed opening date, and yet has already earned the Vidal family another €6.5 million in EU subsidies. 

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Ariana Densham said: “According to some estimates, up to 49% of the global catch is illegal, unreported and unregulated and this is one of the reasons why our over-exploited fisheries are in such rapid decline. The fact that in Europe this theft of fish is being subsidised by taxpayers’ money, that we’re actually paying pirates to steal our fish, destroy one of our oldest industries and devastate the marine environment, shows just how corrupted the CFP is.”
She continued: “If we want to avoid jellyfish and chips becoming our new national dish, the first thing we need to do is properly investigate this sort of abuse and make certain that any subsidies under the new CFP go to fishing which is sustainable and legal.”

Greenpeace are calling for a full EU investigation into subsidies given to the Spanish fishing industry, and for all future subsidies to be given to legal, transparent and sustainable fishing practices, consistent with the CFP’s stated objectives. 

The Greenpeace report: 
The ICIJ investigation: http://www.publicintegrity.org/investigations/icij/

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