Between 1994 and 2010 more than 26 million euros were given by the EU to over 130 Italian, French and Spanish fishing boats which in many cases had already been convicted of serious infringements. It is like rewarding people found guilty of theft. More than ninety environmental organizations, including WWF, Greenpeace, the Pew Environment Group and the Ocean 2012 coalition, have sent an open letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, urging the Commission to take action and abolish these environmentally harmful subsidiesThe mechanism is straightforward but the system is clearly not working properly: EU Member States receive European funds, but the relevant national ministries then distribute the money to fishermen via regional authorities without considering any possible convictions for infringements.
The situation in France and Spain is highlighted in a long list published on the website www.fishsubsidy.org, which reveals that between 1994 and 2006 more than € 13.5m of public funds were given to 36 fishing boats convicted of serious infringements. Things were even worse in Italy, where about 100 fishing boats—many with repeated fines for fishing using illegal drift nets (spadare and ferrettare)—received € 13.8m of public subsidies between 1999 and 2010.
The following were some of the most significant individual cases: between 2005 and 2006 the vessel Sibari II was convicted three times for using illegal drift nets. In June 2006 it had 11 km of drift nets, half a tonne of swordfish and 150 kg of tuna confiscated. Yet a few months later it received € 545,000 of public grants. In Spain the vessel Hodeiertza was convicted in 2005 for illegal fishing in French waters. Built using € 1.2m of EU money, in 2006—despite its conviction—it received a further € 31,906 for modernization. Another recent case shows the casual way in which Spain—a country which receives 46% of Community aid—distributes public money. In June 2010, the Spanish fisheries company Albacora, owner of the vessel Albacore Uno, was fined € 5m by the US government for illegal fishing in US waters. Four months later it received € 307,000 from the Spanish government to improve the security of its fleet at risk of piracy in the Indian Ocean. In France, which receives 9% of grants, the vessel La Pérouse was detained in 2005 for fishing using illegal gear after it had received € 350,000 of public money.
The value of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is assessed to exceed € 10 billion a year worldwide and is also significant in European waters (estimated at 66% of total catch in the North Sea, 50% of tuna and swordfish landed in the Mediterranean).
Click here to see a list of vessels convicted of illegal fishing that have received subsidies.