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Commercial Fishing

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CASE OF ILLEGAL SUBSIDIES FOR ELECTRIC FISHING

NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN THE CASE

New developments in the case of illegal subsidies for electric fishing: BLOOM requests the intervention of the Secretary-General of the European Commission. The illegal use of public funds to finance the development of electric fishing over the period 2007-2020, before the method was banned in 2021, is irrefutable. However, instead of investigating, the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) claims that no public subsidies were given to electric fishing. In the face of this false assertion, BLOOM requests the intervention of the Secretary-General of the European Commission. We call on Mrs. Ilze Juhansone to put an end to the persistent maladministration of the file and to finally investigate into these illegal subsidies.

The assertion by the DG COMP that there were no subsidies for electric fishing is surprising: more than 20 million euros of European public subsidies were granted to this fishing method. These funds were revealed by BLOOM’s analysis of public data, published in the scientific journal Marine Policy in 2019. The DG COMP’s position is a perfect illustration of the European Commission’s calamitous management of the dossier.

It all began in 2018 when BLOOM and 22 other organisations asked the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) to open an investigation of suspected fraud. The complaint builds on the aforementioned analysis of public data showcasing the allocation of subsidies to electric fishing. The funds were allocated in spite of the EFF and FEAMP (European Fisheries Structural Funds) regulations, which prohibit public funding of any method that increases fishing capacity [1]. Electric fishing falls into that category, as recognised by the European Commission in 2007. The mere evidence of the existence of public funds for electric fishing is enough to demonstrate their illegality. Furthermore, the European Commission confirmed that 69 of the 84 derogations granted to practice electric fishing were illegal, making any subsequent subsidy illegal. As we untangled the affair, a double illegality unravelled.

OLAF never anwsered BLOOM and its co-plaintiffs’ request. BLOOM only learnt in January 2019 via the press and the Dutch industrial fishermen — who were incriminated but apparently very well informed — that OLAF decided to close the case without further action. What is more, OLAF is legally accountable to EU citizens and is obliged to directly respond to the complainants by justifying its decision. In light of the gravity of the evidence, BLOOM investigated further. We found that the director of the service in charge of the investigation within OLAF, Ernesto Bianchi, was head of unit in the Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG MARE) between 2011 and 2015. In his position, he had full knowledge of the electric fishing licences. Judge and party, OLAF held back from investigating this compromising case.

With no recourse against OLAF but determined to get to the bottom of the affair, BLOOM turned to the Directorate for Competition (DG COMP) on the grounds of the unfair competition that small-scale fishermen harshly suffered. How could they rival with the technological hyper-efficiency of electric fishing? The closure of the Dunkirk fish market in October 2020 was a glaring symptom of this injustice.

Since the plaintiff needs standing (i.e. have suffered sufficient harm from the condition petitioned in court), BLOOM could not be a plaintiff. We therefore provided all the evidence to the association of artisanal fishermen “LIFE” (Low Impact Fishers in Europe) and to 36 European fishermen, who filed a complaint with the DG COMP in March 2021. The DG COMP replied in its latest letter “that no link could be established between a payment made under the EFF and FEAMP and electric trawl fishing activity” (translated from French).

This response encapsulates the web of fraud and maladministration surrounding the illegal public funding of a fishing method that decimates the environment and destroys jobs. Given the DG COMP’s unwillingness to adequately respond to the evidence provided by civil society, it is now the Secretary-General of the European Commission’s responsibility to put the record straight and investigate the case.

For more information

[1] Article 6 of Regulation (EC) No 1198/2006 states that “operations financed by the EFF shall not increase fishing effort” and Article 11 of Regulation (EU) No 508/2014 states that “operations increasing the fishing capacity of a vessel or equipment increasing the ability of a vessel to find fish” is not eligible for EFF.

 

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