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Spanish & French vessels fishing illegally in the Indian Ocean

Spanish and French fishing purse seine vessels have been fishing illegally in the waters of several African states as well as in Indian waters.

Journalist June 2, 2022
Updated 2022/06/02 at 9:24 PM

The report also highlights small amounts of reported catches in the Chagos Archipelago marine protected area and in Mozambique’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) where no vessels flagged to any EU country could have been authorised to fish.

It says investigations by itself and Kroll Investigators, as well as OceanMind, highlight fishing activity “on the part of Spanish and French-owned purse seine vessels in the waters of Somalia and India with no evidence of access agreements authorising the fishing.”

The reports were published to coincide with the start of the 26th Session of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) which was held during May in Seychelles. Members of the regional fisheries management organisation met to discuss new conservation and management measures for the region and the sustainability of its fish stocks.

These overfished stocks include Indian Ocean yellowfin tuna which it says have been overfished since 2015. Scientific studies suggest it requires catch reductions of up to one third if stocks are recover by 2030, yet the EU, which has been described as the region’s most rapacious yellowfish harvester, was proposing that no further reductions be made this year.

“In addition to the EU’s so-called Sustainable Fisheries Partnership Agreements (SFPAs), which subsidise EU vessels to fish in the waters of third countries (often at a fraction of what it would otherwise cost), there also exist opaque and highly controversial private access agreements made between fishing companies and coastal state governments.

“Blue Marine, together with global investigations firm Kroll, has compared the fishing activity identified by OceanMind in the territorial waters of coastal states to an analysis of the access agreements (both public and private) that exist in the Western Indian Ocean.”

It says this comparison has highlighted potential noncompliance with national and international regulations by Spanish-owned vessels which appear to have spent time fishing in the waters of both India and Somalia without authorisation.

Blue Marine states that a source close to the Indian Head of Delegation confirmed that no permissions or licences were issued to any Spanish-flagged purse seine vessels.

“Another source with links to the Somali ministry of fisheries confirmed that no licences or permissions were granted to any purse seine vessels to operate in the Somali EEZ in 2017, 2018, 2019 or 2020, when fishing was identified.

“The generally opaque nature of access agreements raises additional questions around the compliance of these EU-owned fleets in the waters of several other coastal states, including Mozambique where no private agreements could have been legally issued because of the dormant SFPA in place.”

The study commissioned by Blue Marine Foundation and based on publicly-available data reported to the EU and published online by the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, shows evidence of fishing by Spanish-flagged vessels in the waters of Somalia in 2017 and 2018 and India in 2018 and 2019.


Yet Europeche (Association of National Organizations of Fishing Enterprises in the European Union), claims that “No fishing took place from EU vessels in any coastal state waters without agreement in place.”

Blue Marine counters by saying that there is evidence to suggest that some of these fleets are fishing in coastal states’ waters without any kind of authorisation. “We call on the European Commission to investigate these instances as a matter of urgency.”

Speaking ahead of the IOTC meeting, Jess Rattle, Head of Investigations at Blue Marine Foundation, said that decision makers should be led by science at the meeting of the IOTC, “rather than by greed, self-interest and short-term gain at the expense of the health of tuna stocks and the livelihoods and food security of coastal communities.”

AIS Switch-offs

The report also claimed that Spanish-flagged purse seine vessels operating in the Western Indian Ocean “went dark” by switching off their AIS (Automatic Identification System) for an average of three quarters of the two-year study period.

The report said that: “Importantly, the study found that significant fishing activity was undertaken without the associated use of AIS. This comes just weeks after an admission from a representative of prominent Spanish fishing association, AGAC, that AIS could indeed be switched off for commercial advantage.

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