Oceana claims four countries violated EU law by fishing illegally in African waters

Environmental nonprofit Oceana is claiming vessels from the European Union’s distant-water fleet have been fishing unlawfully in the waters off the coasts of Equatorial Guinea and Gambia.

Using Automatic Identification System (AIS) data collected by satellite and terrestrial receivers tool Global Fishing Watch, Oceana said it tracked 19 vessels from Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain fishing unlawfully for more than 31,000 hours in African waters between April 2012 and August 2015.

The European Union has signed fisheries partnership agreements with several African countries, offering financial and technical support in exchange for fishing rights. However, its agreements with Gambia and Equatorial Guinea are “dormant,” signifying countries that signed fishing partnership agreements “without having a protocol into force, for structural or conjonctural reasons.” Under rules set by the European Commission, EU vessels are not allowed to fish in waters of countries with dormant agreements.

The private fishing authorizations, which granted individual vessels access to these waters, were therefore in contravention of EU law, Oceana claimed in its report.

“Oceana’s findings show that even vessels from countries with strong legal frameworks, such as those within the EU, can engage in unlawful practices,” María José Cornax, senior policy and advocacy director at Oceana in Europe, said in a press release. 

Cornax said new rules approved by the EU in June 2017 will increase transparency in the European fleet – even those fishing in distant waters. The regulations require the public of data showing where individual vessels are fishing, impedes so-called abusive vessel reflagging, and ensures that fishing activities under private agreements meet EU standards, according to Oceana.

“We are happy that the EU has just passed a new regulation that will help ensure the transparency of all fishing activities outside EU waters, and which calls on the rest of the world’s flag States to follow suit, and to pass laws and control measures to ensure that the fishing activities of their fleet are sustainable and transparent,” Cornax said. “When fully implemented, the new law will significantly improve the oversight of the EU’s external fishing fleet and ensure the continued leadership of the EU in matters of global fisheries governance.”

Beth Lowell, senior campaign director for illegal fishing and seafood fraud at Oceana, called for countries with fishing industries to make vessel tracking mandatory at all times for their fleets.

 “Countries can also play their part in increasing transparency at sea by requiring vessel tracking for all fishing vessels and making all fishing agreements public,” Lowell said.


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