Brussels, 25 July 2007
Commission: Member States' sanctions for infringements to fisheries measures not sufficient deterrent
The European Commission has today published its annual Communication on the reports sent by the Member States on serious infringements to the rules of the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) in 2005. While there is a slight increase in the number of infringements detected, from 9,660 in 2004 to 10,443 in 2005, there is also a significant reduction in the average fine imposed from €2,272 in 2004 to €1,548 in 2005. The Commission is concerned that the information provided by the Member States is still insufficient to provide full transparency in the way CFP rules are enforced. It is also concerned that both detection rates and the level of sanctions applied remain far too low to provide an effective deterrent to those prepared to break the rules. Discussions have begun with Member States on changes to EU legislation and national procedures to improve the current situation.
"Breaching fisheries measures is not an innocuous snub at authority. In reality, it represents a series of repeated blows to the sustainability of the fish stocks and the fisheries concerned. Unless we all work together at eliminating the illegal activities of a minority, illegal fishing will continue to flourish while the industry as a whole, declines.", Commissioner for Fisheries and Maritime Affairs, Joe Borg, commented.
The increase in the number of infringements detected by 8.11% continues the trend towards a higher detection rate seen since 2002. However, this has to be seen against the background of the enlargement of the European Union. Cases detected rose by 783, while the EU fleet increased by 5,697 vessels following the 2004 enlargement. 23% of these cases concerned unauthorised fishing, and 17% concerned the storing, processing, placing for sale and transporting of fisheries products not meeting the marketing standards in force. The number of cases of tampering with equipment on board which allows for satellite-based vessel monitoring almost doubled in 2005 compared with previous years. However, this level still remains far lower than the observations by the Commission's own inspectors suggest it should be.
As in previous years, there are wide differences between Member States in the financial penalties imposed for the same type of infringement. Of the 10,443 breaches of CFP rules detected, 8,665 ended with a sanction. The average fine of €1,548 is not only less than the average in 2004, but it is even less than half the average imposed in 2003 (€4,664). There was also a large decrease in the number of fishing licences withdrawn (only 335, compared to 1,226 in 2004). The total amount paid in penalties by the fisheries industry in 2005 came to €10.8 million, or less than 0.17% of the value of 2004 landings (0.2% in 2004).
The general lack of supporting information from Member States to help interpret the quantitative data means that, once again, it is very difficult to make an in-depth analysis of the figures provided. The Commission concludes that the situation has not really improved compared to the previous year.
The Commission therefore calls on the Member States once more to put in place a system of sanctions which will provide a genuine incentive to comply. While the Member States can adopt the procedures they deem the most appropriate, the Commission suggests that financial penalties should take into account the value of the catches found on board. It also points out that administrative sanctions, and in particular the suspension of the entitlement to fish or carry out a professional activity, can be a rapid and effective tool for encouraging compliance, and regrets that so few Member States use this approach.
In order to improve transparency, the Commission initiated a debate with Member States in May 2006 on how the present reporting system could be improved, and in particular on a new typology for serious infringements. Once consultation is complete, the Commission plans to make a formal proposal for a revision of EU legislation. In the meantime, the Commission calls on the Member States to collect and transmit to the Commission the necessary information on infringements of the CFP rules.
The Commission underlines the need for major changes both to EU law and to national procedures if full transparency is to be achieved. Administrative as well as financial support to help Member States set up the changes needed to meet these requirements is available.
Since 2001, Member States are obliged to provide the Commission every year with detailed information on serious infringements detected by their national control authorities, including the action taken and penalties applied. The aim of the exercise is to allow comparisons between the sanctions imposed by the Member States and to thus encourage the creation of a level playing field across Member States. For the first time, the Communication published today proposes examples of 'best practice' in this domain which it hopes may become more widely adopted.