The row erupted in 2012 as Spanish companies owned by the Vidal family of Spain were hit with the some of the biggest fines in British maritime history. They were penalised to the sum of £1.62million in a Truro court. The hearing revealed across two days how the Spanish companies had falsified log books, failed to register the transfer of fish between vessels, gave false readings for weighing fish at sea, and fiddling of fishing quotas.
In a damning statement, Judge Graham Cottle highlighted that the Spaniards had defied the regulations of the Common Fisheries Policy and “abused” the quota system.
He said “wholesale falsification of official documentation” had contributed to “systematic, repeated and cynical abuse of the EU fishing quota system over a period of 18 months”.
Mr Cottle added: “[This was a] flagrant, repeated and long term abuse of regulations.
“The fish targeted [hake] was at that time a species of fish on the verge of collapse and adherence to quotas was seen as crucial to the survival of the species.”
The court also heard how the two companies sent their ships into waters had been sailing under UK flags and were landing fish based on quotas given to British fishermen under the EU’s CFP.
Two vessels were involved, but the companies own several other large vessels, capable of industrial-scale fishing.
The offences dated back to 2009-2010.
They were fined £925,000 on a confiscation order, plus £195,000 in costs, and an additional fine of £250,000 levied on both companies. Two skippers who were acting under the family’s instructions were fined £5,000 each.
While the fines were hefty, one campaigner argued that the penalties should have gone further while also highlighting flaws with the EU’s CFP at the time.
Ariana Densham, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “This group of people should never be allowed near UK fishing quota again.
“The Vidals’ right to fish should be removed completely.”
She also highlighted how the EU’s quota system had become vulnerable to illegal activity such as this.
Ms Densham added: “The system that allowed this to happen needs to be fixed, this case is not a one off. It’s a symptom of Europe’s farcical fishing rules.
“The Vidals were permitted to fish under UK flags, using UK quota, and receive huge EU subsidies, with none of the proceeds ever feeding back into the UK economy.
“The system is skewed in favour of rich, powerful, industrial-scale fishing companies, when really it should be supporting low-impact, sustainable fishermen.”
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Brussels went on to pursue reform of the CFP, as Fisheries Commissioner Maria Damanaki sought to end waste and discarding of fish at sea.
The CFP was one of the main motivators behind the UK’s vote to leave the EU.
In current talks, the EU27 has agreed to its red lines on Brexit trade talks while Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vowed to take back control of British waters.
Brussels has maintained a deal between the UK and EU can only happen if Mr Johnson grants the bloc access to British waters.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told a press conference recently that fishing rights must be included in the deal or there “won’t be any agreement at all”.
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