Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hooked and Booked

Greenpeace has uncovered unsettling evidence that the Spanish government has been subsidizing a company known to engage in Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing in the Southern Ocean. The company, Vidal Armadores S. A., is blacklisted by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR), which regulates fishing in the Southern Ocean. Why is a blacklisted ship receiving several million euros from the Spanish government? It is unclear, but unlikely that the Spanish government can claim ignorance. According to Greenpeace, New Zealand inspectors uncovered evidence that a Namibian-flagged ship called the Paloma V was involved in illegal transshipments - the transfer of illegal fish catches from one ship to another - in April 2008. Their evidence implicated several ships in the Vidal fleet in these transshipments.

The Spanish government went ahead and signed an agreement with the Namibian government to allow one of the ships identified by NZ to fish in Namibian waters. They've also assisted Vidal with obtaining other contracts and licenses. One of the fish they are involved with illegally catching is the Patagonia toothfish, which is quickly nearing extinction due to legal and illegal overfishing. Transshipment and other loopholes are widely used by pirate fishers so they can reap enormous profits without getting in trouble.

As Greenpeace says, it's time to hook and book illegal fishers. The Spanish government needs to stop subsidizing and helping Vidal, and start prosecuting those involved in illegal fishing activity. Global fishing stocks are in decline. If all the catch limits and regulations of CCAMLR and other bodies are to be at all effective, countries must enforce existing anti-IUU laws (and probably add new laws and punishments). It's all too easy for people to ignore overfishing, particularly when it's done in the Southern Ocean, far away from any governments who could object or patrol. But the ocean belongs to us all, and damaged ecosystems do not only have local repercussions. When companies such as Vidal flout the law so openly, they indeed need to be hooked and booked, not subsidized.

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