Investigation: Taxpayers pay Spain to overfish

Overfishing has left Europe’s fish stocks and its fishermen in poverty, and EU taxpayers are shouldering the burden, according to a new investigation.

A report released by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) on Sunday targets Spain for using billions of euros in subsidies to “build its bloated fleet and prop up a money-losing industry.” The report accuses the Spain’s industrial-scale fishing fleet of “systematically flouting the rules while officials overlook fraud and continue to fund offenders.”

The Spanish fishing fleet has received more than EUR 5.8 billion in subsidies since 2000 for everything from building new vessels and breaking down old ships to payments for retiring fishermen and training for the next generation, according to the ICIJ. Subsidies account for nearly one-third of the value of the industry, making one out of three fish caught in Spain paid for with public money, found the ICIJ.

ICIJ’s analysis is the first in-depth look at just how much public aid Spain has received for fishing, primarily from EU taxpayers but also from Madrid and regional governments. The country has cornered one-third of all EU fishing aid since 2000, far more than any other member state. The central government doles out even more for low interest loans and funding for its largest industry associations, which in turn lobby the EU for more industry subsidies, found the ICIJ.

Since 2000, the Spain’s fishing sector has avoided paying EUR 2 billion in taxes on fuel to the Spanish Treasury. More than EUR 82 million has been spent to promote the sector through advertising and at trade shows. After fishing vessels were hijacked by pirates in the Indian Ocean, Spain in 2009 changed its law to allow vessels to hire private security forces onboard, and then it helped foot the bill to the tune of EUR 2.8 million, according to the ICIJ.

Ernesto Penas Lado, director of the European Commission’s fisheries policy unit, told the ICIJ investigators that the mindset in Spain and among fishing nations globally is that no single country feels responsible for the fate of the fish in the sea. “It’s the tragedy of the commons,” he said. “Because the resources belong to no one; they belong to everyone.”

Click here to read the ICIJ investigation.

Greenpeace also on Sunday published a report lambasting Spain’s industrial-scale fishing fleet for its abuse of subsidies and involvement in illegal fishing.


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