Has the EU an effective fisheries control system in place?  / by Francisco Blaha

A very good report by the European Court of Auditors was recently published and it makes for interesting reading. The court's job is to audit the effectiveness of different bodies and EU-wide policies. This time their question was a simple, yet amazingly complex to answer: “Has the EU an effective fisheries control system in place?” 

 Fisherman in Vigo, Spain

Fisherman in Vigo, Spain

They approached the issue from various sides and found quite challenging answers. I’m not gonna go over the whole report (read the original), but it was on one side reassuring, and on the other side worrying to read statements like this:

In general, the Member States we visited planned and carried out fisheries inspections well. However, the fact that inspectors did not have real-time access to information about vessels reduced the effectiveness of inspections. Member States had established standardized inspection procedures, but we found cases where available report templates had not been used by inspectors. The inspection results were not always correctly reported in the national databases. We also found that sanctions applied were not always dissuasive. The points system, one of the main innovations of the current control regulation intending to ensure equal treatment of fishing operators, was applied to very different extents across Member States we visited and even within the same Member State. Finally, there is currently no European register of infringements and sanctions, which would allow a better follow-up of points applied, a more effective risk analysis and enhanced transparency among Member States. 

Reassuring, because there are parts of it I could have written for many of the small Pacific island developing states I work with “had established standardized inspection procedures, but we found cases where available report templates had not been used by inspectors. The inspection results were not always correctly reported in the national databases. We also found that sanctions applied were not always dissuasive… there is currently no register of infringements and sanctions”. Hence if this is the situation in the richest and organised countries in the world, then we deserve some slack. Furthermore, we do have “real-time access to information about vessels” and we have also a developing register of infractions.

Worryingly, because many of the countries I work with got issued yellow cards for reasons that are no too different to some of the ones I read here. And these countries made substantial efforts that if we were to measure them as % of GDP are way bigger that whatever the EU states need to do to be shining examples of good practices.

To the EU’s praise, I have to say that I only read this type of information out of them themselves, and that has to be applauded. Yes, they have problems and they publish them for everyone to read. Total transparency. Something like this published by China or Taiwan would be unthinkable, yet totally necessary.

The other bit that really surprised me is the section on VMS, I quote:

On analysing the information in the EU fleet register, we found that 2 % of vessels that were over 15 metres long and were licensed to fish had no VMS, contrary to the requirements of the Control Regulation. The Commission had detected this irregularity but it had not been corrected at the time of the audit.  Due to the limited requirements of the Control regulation, at 31 December 2015, 89 % of EU fishing vessels included in the EU register did not have VMS equipment on board. Of these, 95 % were vessels under 12 metres long, which are not required to have VMS under the Control Regulation. Most of the vessels between 12 and 15 metres long (79 %) were exempted from the VMS obligation by Member States. We recognise the need to avoid overburdening operators of small vessels with expensive and complex localisation systems. However, the fact that an important part of the fishing fleet is not equipped with VMS represents a significant gap in the fisheries management system.

I totally understand that smaller vessels (>10m) should be exempt, yet for 79% of vessels in between 15-12mt to be out, is surprising. 

The one that wasn't surprising for me* was the following:

In the Member States visited, the VMS systems were generally being correctly used to plan inspections and monitor the fishing activities of vessels linked to the system. However in Italy, unlike the other countries visited, the system did not produce automatic alerts when fishing vessels entered restricted fishing areas, to enable the authorities to check whether the vessel was authorised to fish. Member States sometimes set more stringent conditions than those required by the Control Regulation. For example, in order to better check vessel activity under the national Mediterranean management plan, Spain required all purse seiners and trawlers, regardless of size, to be linked to the VMS. Moreover, some regional authorities in Spain required all vessels fishing in certain protected zones to be equipped with simpler (non VMS) localisation systems.

So basically, good on the EU for being transparent about their problems, yet remember them when you point fingers to others ☺

*Fishing back in Argentina was mostly managed by Italians migrants, and they weren’t very compliance oriented. Spain on the other side keep showing leadership in changing their compliance performance.