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Multinational fleets deployed in battle to save cod and tuna - 29/07/2008

The Jean Charcot patrol vessel at sea

EU countries launch joint sea patrols in fight against overfishing of endangered species.

In February, five ships backed by surveillance aircraft set sail in the Baltic Sea. They were on a mission to stop the overfishing of cod, once plentiful in the icy waters, but now fast disappearing.

Over two weeks, inspectors from Denmark, Poland, Lithuania and Sweden made 112 surprise visits – boarding boats at sea and checking them as they came ashore. Ten violations were detected, mainly for under-reporting of catch.

The operation was organised by the EU Fisheries Control Agency, which enlists EU countries in joint efforts to stop illegal fishing. The agency was set up in 2005 out of concern that quotas on catches and other rules were not uniformly enforced. It has an annual budget of €5m and about 50 staff.

So far the agency has coordinated around 20 such missions, mainly in the Baltic and North seas. But those aren’t the only waters where it has been busy. While inspectors scoured the Baltic in February, the " Jean Charcot ", a French patrol vessel chartered by the agency, battled back-to-back storms to monitor boats in the Northwest Atlantic.

Now the agency is turning to calmer seas. In its biggest overfishing campaign yet, it is coordinating the deployment of some 50 patrol boats, 16 aircraft and 30 inspectors to the Mediterranean and Eastern Atlantic, to ease the pressure on the endangered bluefin tuna. Seven countries are participating: Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Malta, Portugal and Spain.

Closer to home, the agency inaugurated its new HQ in Vigo, Spain, on 19 July. EU fisheries commissioner Joe Borg was among officials attending the celebration.

The EU is the world’s third largest producer in the fishing and aquaculture sector and a major exporter of high-value fish products. Most EU catches are made in the East Atlantic and Mediterranean.

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