The Malta Independent 16 July 2019, Tuesday

NGOs call on EC to investigate potential lack of enforcement of EU rules in fisheries sector

Kevin Schembri Orland Thursday, 14 March 2019, 11:34 Last update: about 5 months ago

A number of European fisheries and wildlife NGOs have called on the European Commission to conduct an investigation and publicly publish an audit report ‘on the potential malfunctioning of the Maltese fisheries control system and lack of enforcement of existing EU rules’.

The call was made after the recent smuggling and bribery allegations involving Maltese individuals in the fisheries sector.

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Recently, Fisheries Director Andreina Fenech Farrugia was suspended following allegations that she demanded money from a major Spanish tuna operator José Fuentes García for personal use. Spanish newspaper El Confidential had published leaked phone intercepts by the Spanish authorities allegedly showing how Fenech Farrugia asked Spanish bluefin tuna kingpin José Fuentes García for payment. Spain has been investigating the fisheries situation. Fenech Farrugia has denied any wrongdoing and asking for or taking money for herself.

At the same time and in what seems to be a separate situation, another El Confidencial news report read that one of the tuna suppliers of "illegally caught and fattened tuna" in Malta is Giovanni Ellul, CEO of Malta Fish Farming (MFF Ltd). Ellul categorically denied the allegation to El Confidencial, saying that his company has never been involved in the smuggling of illegal fish from Malta to Spain.

Now, representatives of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the Environmental Justice Foundation, ClientEarth, fish4tomorrow, and Oceana made the aforementioned request, among other things.

The organisations raised serious concerns regarding “the suspected malpractices by the Maltese fishing authorities in the alleged laundering of illegal and unreported bluefin tuna - Operación ‘Tarantelo’.” Operation Tarantelo was launched when the Spanish Guardia Civil became aware of irregularities relating to Bluefin tuna fishing in the Mediterranean Sea.

 “As the Maltese National Audit Office recently reported, systematic inefficiencies and ineffective practices prevail within the Fisheries and Aquaculture Inspection Department in Malta, which undermine the department’s efforts in regulating the fisheries sector. The shortage of staff to carry out the required inspections is particularly concerning, as it goes against the legal obligation that Member States have, under the Control Regulation, to allocate appropriate resources for control and inspections.”

The organisations also called on the Commission to publicly communicate the outcomes of the investigations, and disclose the information on the results of the audits which have been recently carried out in several bluefin tuna farms, “including links to other Member states or International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) Contracting Party fishing, transfer and caging operations.”

ICCAT is an inter-governmental fishery organization responsible for the conservation of tunas and tuna-like species in the Atlantic Ocean and its adjacent seas.

The Commission was asked to investigate the possible misuse of European funds by the operators concerned.

They ask the Commission to ensure that the Member States involved take immediate enforcement measures, in relation to the products coming from the suspected farms and the EU nationals involved.

The European Commission has also been asked to work together with the ICCAT Compliance Committee once the legal procedure concludes, to enforce applicable ICCAT compliance rules which require that any amount of unreported bluefin tuna be deducted from the relevant quota allocation in the subsequent year.

The organisations also request that the Commission publicly communicates any type of corrective measures that the Commission has decided to take against Malta or other Member States to avoid the marketing of illegal fish and to improve the Maltese fisheries control system.

“The EU has proven to be a leader in the fight against Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, and its policies and actions are contributing to improve fisheries management worldwide. But to remain credible, it must take decisive action when Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities are uncovered at home too.”

This newsroom has spoken with the EU Commission early in February. European Commissioner Karmenu Vella, had condemned the “infringements and malpractices” that have led to the suspension of the director of Malta’s fisheries department director, Andreina Fenech Farrugia.

“We strongly condemn the infringements and malpractices as reported by the Spanish Guardia Civil under ‘Operation Tarantelo’. They are in breach of EU and international rules and as such cannot be tolerated,” Vella said in a statement. The European Commission has been in contact with all the relevant national authorities and other relevant actors in this operation (i.e. Europol) to follow up on the ongoing Tarantelo investigation, which is now at the level of the "Audiciencia Nacional" in Spain, the Commission had said.

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