Last Year, a fishing vessel owned by a Spanish fishing syndicate that illegally caught 164 tons of Patagonian toothfish was seized in Vietnam. This was not the first time the company had engaged in illegal fishing. Two years ago, two of their vessels were impounded in Mindelo, Cabo Verde.
A Chinese company purchased the illegal catch, and now the Spanish National Court has ordered the Chinese company be compensated with 700,000 Euros.
Oceana and Sea Shepherd, two Marine conservation groups, have called on the international community to immediately stop this gross miscarriage of justice.
The two fishing boats impounded two years ago are now preparing to leave Mindelo port.
There are several problems with the Spanish National Court ruling. First, Spain and The People’s Republic of China are contracting parties to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Under this commission, the nationals of participating countries cannot benefit economically from any Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The second problem is that it tells illegal fishermen that they don’t need to abide by international rules.
The third problem is that it tells legal fishermen that they don’t need to abide by international rules either.
Contravening International Agreements
The Marine conservation groups want the Vietnamese, Spanish and Chinese governments to immediately cooperate to prevent the payment, because it is clearly in contravention of their international agreements.
“By ordering the payment of 700,000 Euros in compensation for a cargo of illegally-caught Patagonian toothfish, the Spanish National Court is sending the wrong signal to fishermen and the global fish market. There is no doubt that the confiscated fish was illegal since it lacked the documentation required to be traded legally. All international commitments to crack-down on IUU fishing are put at stake by the passive stance from Spanish and Chinese authorities. Instead Governments must stop illegal fishing now,” Lasse Gustavsson, Executive Director of Oceana Europe said, in an interview.
As already noted, the two other black-listed vessels now preparing to leave Mindelo, Cabo Verde, will soon resume fishing operations.
Both vessels were subjects to Interpol Purple Notices. The purple notice is an international alert of criminal activity. The Cabo Verde Judicial Police took action against both vessels in 2015, after Sea Shepherd alerted them to their operations. They have been held in the Mindelo port, Republic of Cabo Verde off West Africa until now.
Whitewashing by Repainting, Renaming and Reflagging
Those two vessels were Yongding and Songhua. While held in that port, they have been repainted, renamed and reflagged. Their new home ports are the Republic of Tanzania and Chile. Yongding is now Atlantic Wind and Songhua is now Pescacisne 2.
The Spanish Court decision is exactly what the poachers want. Captain Peter Hammarstedt, who undertook the longest maritime pursuit in history, chasing the Thunder, knows exactly how poachers operate. Recalling his experience, he said “The vessels formerly known as Yongding and Songhua have taken on crew and fishing gear. It is readily apparent that these two vessels are being readied for sea to poach again, emboldened by the decision of the Spanish National Court to reward criminal behavior.”
Oceana and Sea Shepherd say the government of Cabo Verde should prevent the two black-listed vessels from continuing their illegal operations. They want the government to not only not allow then to proceed to sea, but to also deny them any port support. The two vessels are doubly black-listed, under CCAMLR and also under the International Commissions for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT). They say the two governments, Tanzania and Chile, should de-flag both vessels, Atlantic Wind and Pescacisne 2.
“It took more than two decades of hard work from environmental NGOs and certain governments to get the international community united in the fight against IUU fishing,” Gustavsson says. “Yongding, Songhua and Kunlun are icons of this fight. If the international community doesn’t stop them they will plunder the Antarctic again and again.”
How The Court Became Involved
The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Spanish Police and Interpol raided properties of the Vidal fishing conglomerate in 2016. Thousands of documents and computer files were seized, and six arrests were made. Armed with information from the raid, the Spanish Prosecution Service launched a criminal case against the shipowners for falsification of documents, money laundering, environmental crimes and criminal conspiracy.
The Spanish Ministry of Agriculture imposed fines up to 17.8 million Euros and a 25-year ban from fishing and receiving government fishing subsidies for the Vidal companies conglomerate.
The Spanish Supreme Court eventually dismissed the criminal case, with one judge dissenting, because they held the Courts did not have the jurisdiction to rule on issues of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing in High Seas areas, such as the Antarctic.