Greenpeace accused the European Union of blocking international efforts to stop illegal and unregulated fishing boats from depleting world fish stocks. The environmental organization said the EU, along with Mexico and Brazil, were trying to weaken a U.N. pact on illegal fishing due to be agreed at a meeting in Rome later this week. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) wants to make it more difficult for fishing vessels using flags of convenience to side-step fish stock conservation treaties -- a practice Greenpeace has dubbed "pirate fishing."
Vessels registered in countries such as Belize, Honduras and Panama, which are not party to regional fishing treaties, are not bound by rules such as fish quotas or regulations on types of nets that can be used.
"They are ruthlessly exploiting already depleted fish populations and robbing legitimate fishermen
of millions of honestly earned dollars," Greenpeace said. "We are not optimistic that governments will act decisively," Greenpeace's Matthew Gianni told a news conference. "We are looking at the continuation of a system that makes a mockery of international efforts to regulate and manage fish stocks."
Greenpeace said the EU was one of the parties that had weakened a draft of the FAO agreement, deleting a call on governments to penalize companies based in their own countries which use flags of convenience to flout the rules. The EU is second only to Taiwan for the number of fishing vessels it has registered under flags of convenience, with most of the owners in Spain, Greenpeace said.
"The EU and the Spanish government has done nothing to limit the access to its harbors for these vessels," Greenpeace's Helene Bours said. Other countries, such as South Africa, had banned such vessels, Bours added. A European Commission official said he was surprised that Greenpeace had accused the EU of weakening the draft agreement.
"The plan of action has been strongly supported from the start by the European Union because we consider that the fight against illegal fishing is a key part of fish stock conservation," the official told Reuters.
The EU wanted to get a good agreement this week and was working to convince Mexico -- the pact's main opponent -- that its worries about the deal's impact on trade were unfounded, he added.
Greenpeace wants governments not only to close their ports to flag of convenience vessels, but also to prevent fish caught by such vessels from being bought and sold in their territory and to ban companies within their borders from owning or operating such ships. - (Reuters)