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Failure to record catches has adverse effect on efforts to curb overfishing

YANNIS PALAIOLOGOS

TAGS: Environment, EU

Greece continues to face significant difficulties in recording fish catches, making the task of cracking down on overfishing that much harder. According to sources at the Ministry of Agricultural Development, which is responsible for fishing policy, the national program for collecting catch data won’t be able to present complete figures for the entire year, but – possibly – only for August onward.

Participation in the European Union’s catch data collection program is mandatory under Council Regulation (EC) No 199/2008, yet Greece has only managed to submit a complete set of numbers once – last year – since the regulation came into effect nine years ago. In the period from 2009 to 2013, moreover, it did not submit any data whatsoever, and in 2014 and 2015 it collected figures for fewer than half the months of the year – and “half a program is basically no program,” the same sources argue.

However, they add, the data collection that took place between 2014 and 2016 was paid for from the state coffers – “something that wasn’t at all easy” – in the knowledge that this money would be returned in the future, as the program is 90 percent funded by the European Union. Administrative and management shortcomings systematically result in delays in tendering the annual data collection project and getting it included in the public investment program, meaning that Greece regularly misses out on the funding it could get to pay for the projects. It is worth noting that until 2008, the fisheries data program was overseen by Brussels. From 2009 onward, this task was taken on by national authorities.

In the meantime, the Agriculture Ministry’s Directorate-General for Sustainable Fisheries has embarked on an effort to collect catch data from vessels up to 10 meters in length and which constitute the overwhelming majority of the Greek fishing fleet (some 14,000 out of a total of 15,188 boats). These vessels are not required by law to keep a catch log and submit a landing declaration as larger boats under European legislation are.

With a circular published in February 2016, the Greek authorities obliged the owners of smaller fishing boats to submit a monthly log. However, sources with knowledge of the implementation of this measure tell Kathimerini that only around 5,000 fishing boat owners have complied so far. For the time being, there is no penalty for noncompliance but this will gradually change with the introduction of measures such as the nonrenewal of fishing licenses and funding program ineligibility, among others. “Many fishermen are afraid to submit a record even though it is in their best interest because they think it will get back to the tax authorities,” says a source.

According to the European Commission, Mediterranean fish stocks are in a critical condition, as scientists estimate that some 90 percent of the basic species for which data are available are subject to overfishing. Of the 82,000 boats fishing in the Mediterranean, around 80 percent are less than 10 meters in length, employ 60 percent of the sector’s workforce and fish a quarter of the region’s catches.

In March, 15 Mediterranean nations – including Greece – signed the MedFish4Ever Declaration in Malta. Sources at the Commission, which was responsible for the initiative, say that it is an “ambitious yet realistic political commitment” which pertains to a series of very specific goals and actions – among which is improving catch data collection.

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