Spain announces law to fight pirate fishing | Oceana

Spain announces law to fight pirate fishing

Press Release Date: January 29, 2015



Anna Baxter | email:
Anna Baxter

January 16th 2015: The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF applaud Spain’s new fisheries law[1], which imposes stronger penalties on Spanish citizens involved in pirate fishing anywhere in the world. The organisations call on the rest of Member States to approve similar laws in order to effectively fight illegal fishing globally.

The new Spanish fisheries law 33/2014 is the translation into Spanish legislation of the EU’s illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing regulation, which requires all EU member States to take action against citizens and companies found to be involved in any IUU fishing activities anywhere in the world.

“The lack of will by member States to put in place laws that target those getting rich from illegal fishing has been a serious obstacle to the EU’s effectiveness to tackle this problem. The fact that Spain, Europe’s biggest fishing country has decided to take action against international and renowned pirates that have so far operated with impunity is an important signal that we ask other EU countries to follow”, said Maria José Cornax Fisheries Campaign Manager of Oceana.

The recent case of vessels currently being investigated for pirate fishing in the Southern Ocean by New Zealand could be a timely opportunity to profit from the scope of this new law. The vessels under investigation are flagged to Equatorial Guinea but are suspected of being linked economically to a Spanish company[2].  At the request of New Zealand, INTERPOL Purple Notices[3] have been issued in order to seek information on the individuals and networks behind these vessels. In the past, two of these vessels have been linked to Spanish-based syndicate Vidal Armadores S.A, a family-controlled company in northwestern Spain that is allegedly linked to more than 40 cases of alleged illegal fishing. Measures within the new law will provide Spanish authorities with the opportunity to take action against this company if links can be proved.

The new law puts in place measures enabling the Spanish government to act against Spanish citizens benefiting economically from operating illegally. For example, Spanish nationals or companies benefiting from illegal operations of fishing vessels under any flag, including flags of convenience, and owned or operated by “shell” companies in tax havens.

“The introduction of this law reinforces Spain’s commitment to fight illegal fishing and those citizens benefiting from it. All EU member States should follow Spain’s lead and effectively implement this key element of the EU IUU Regulation”, added Steve Trent, Executive Director of EJF.


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The Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), Oceana, The Pew Charitable Trusts and WWF are working together to secure the harmonised and effective implementation of the EU Regulation to end illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Spain, Europe’s largest fishing country and biggest EU importer and exporter of seafood products are the first to take measures against pirate fishing. Spain alone represents 20% of Europe’s fishing capacity and has the highest number of people employed in the fishing sector.

Flags of convenience is the business practise of registering a merchant ship in a sovereign state different from that of the ship’s owners, and flying that state’s civil ensign on the ship. Ships are registered under flags of convenience to reduce operating costs or avoid the regulations of the owner’s country.

The EU IUU regulation[4], which came into force in 2010, aims to keep illegally caught fish out of the EU market by requiring “catch certificates” for seafood imports and exports. It also bars the import of fish from states and vessels known to be involved in IUU fishing. The regulation and the EU’s enforcement of it are unique globally.

Prior to the EU IUU Regulation coming into force, the value of illegally caught fish imported into the EU was estimated in the region of 1.1 billion euro.