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The scandal of the European Union’s illegal fishing fleets

by Andrew Rogan

Amid a food crisis exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, evidence suggests that the European Union has also been stealing food.

Two separate reports were released last month, showing evidence that EU fishing fleets have been fishing illegally in the Indian Ocean for years. One of the reports was conducted by marine analyst OceanMind but commissioned by Blue Marine Foundation (a UK-based NGO). Blue Marine also published the second report.

Somalia is one of the countries in which EU fishing fleets appear to have been illegally fishing. Overfishing from foreign fleets was widely touted as one of the key instigators of the Somali piracy disaster from 2008 to 2012, which cost the global economy billions of dollars. Evidently, the lesson has not been learned. Somalia, it should be noted, remains one of the poorest nations in the world. Yet this scandal is not restricted to Somalia. EU fishing fleets have also been plundering the waters of Mozambique and India. There have even been traces of fishing in the Chagos Archipelago Marine Protected Area, where EU fishing is strictly illegal.

Regardless, this is a gross example of hypocrisy from the EU, which regularly touts its environmental record as an example for others to follow. It isn’t only the fact that these EU ships are acting illegally. It is also the boldness with which they are doing it, the impunity they face upon doing it, and the fact that much of their illicit action directly affects the countries, and their people, in whose waters they are doing it.

The reports focused on data from the Automatic Identification System, which is required on fishing vessels by EU and international maritime law. AIS is essentially a tracking system, allowing the position of any vessel to be monitored at all times. Yet there is clear evidence that some EU fishing vessels have at least temporarily switched off their AIS, breaking maritime law while endangering the vessel’s crew. When the AIS is off, these vessels can no longer be tracked and can act with impunity.

his risk, and relative opportunity, of AIS impunity is particularly pertinent in the waters of less-developed nations that cannot afford to monitor their Exclusive Economic Zones. Switching AIS off is quite a blatant indicator of illegal activity. The EU fishing fleets involved have asserted that there can be valid reasons for AIS being turned off in certain circumstances. Yet some EU vessels had their AIS off for three-quarters of the two-year study period!

The European fishing fleets involved also claim that the data used to demonstrate their illegal fishing was unreliable when, in reality, it was their own data. Even more ridiculous is their assertion that no fishing took place without agreements with the countries involved. Sources from Somalia and India have confirmed that no agreements exist, while EU fishing in the waters of Mozambique and the Chagos Archipelago is strictly illegal. The EU’s hesitancy to clamp down on this is shameful.

As fish stocks in the area edge toward collapse, local people find themselves without food, leading to widespread malnutrition and starvation (fish is a crucial source of protein in many of these countries), and without work. As in the case of Somalia, this can have dire global economic ramifications. The EU should live up to its rhetoric and end this injustice.

Andrew Rogan is a marine biologist specializing in the study and preservation of whales and their habitats.

§source: Washington Examiner

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